A Brief History of Vitra and The Fauteuil Direction Pivotant

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Vitra is a Swiss family-owned furniture company that has become synonymous with classic, modern design. Founded in 1950 by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum, Vitra initially produced shop display cases. In 1953, a fateful trip to the United States changed the course of the company forever.

Vitra’s Beginnings and Influential Collaborations

On this visit to the USA, Willi Fehlbaum discovered chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames. He decided then and there to pivot Vitra into furniture manufacturing. Fehlbaum met the famous designer couple in person soon after, beginning a friendship and creative partnership that shaped Vitra from that point forward.

Vitra has worked closely with many of the world’s most prominent designers, architects, and artists over the decades. These collaborations have led to the production of furniture classics that remain relevant today. For example, one of Vitra’s most famous designs is the Panton Chair, created by Verner Panton in 1960 and put into production by Vitra in 1967. The brightly coloured, sculptural chair is an iconic expression of Vitra’s willingness to experiment formally with new materials and manufacturing techniques.

An Evolving Focus on Sustainability and Inclusion

While Vitra has always worked with leading designers to produce the highest quality furniture, the company’s philosophy has evolved over time to emphasise sustainability and inclusive design.

In recent years, Vitra has focused on sustainability initiatives, offering decades-long guarantees on products like office chairs. The company’s sustainability strategy includes environmental responsibility, cultural enrichment, and commercial viability. For Vitra, sustainability is a way of life fully integrated into its business and design practices.

Vitra has also embraced the “design for all” concept, aiming to create high-performing, comfortable furniture suitable for diverse users. This reflects the company’s ongoing commitment to producing designs everyone can enjoy.

Preserving an Important Design Legacy

Even as its strategy evolves, Vitra remains dedicated to its founding mission of preserving and propagating historically significant design.

Vitra has accumulated an extensive and ever-growing collection of important historical chairs and furniture over the decades. To preserve this design heritage and make it accessible to the public, the company established the independent Vitra Design Museum in 1989.

The initial concept was a simple shed-like structure for the storage and display of the collection. However, the vision expanded into a full-fledged museum and research institution during the planning stages with architect Frank Gehry.

Dedicated to the research and promotion of design history, the Vitra Design Museum holds a collection of over 20,000 objects. The museum’s holdings include the estates of iconic designers like Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Verner Panton.

The museum aims to conserve these important works while educating the public about design. Exhibitions, workshops, guided tours, and other programs allow visitors to engage with the evolution of design and its relationship to architecture, art, and culture.

The Vitra Design Museum represents a unique commitment to preserving design heritage for future generations. Through its archives, library, conservation lab, and continually expanding collection, the museum ensures that the legacy of design lives on.

Vitra’s establishment of an independent museum and archive is a testament to the company’s belief in design’s enduring cultural value. By housing a comprehensive collection and making it publicly accessible, Vitra has created a one-of-a-kind resource that secures an important piece of design history.

The Fauteuil Direction Pivotant

The Fauteuil Direction Pivotant is a swivel office chair designed by French architect and designer Jean Prouvé in 1951. Vitra reissued Prouvé’s classic mid-century modern designs beginning in 2002, including the Fauteuil Direction Pivotant. The chair has become an iconic piece of furniture, appreciated for its timeless design and versatility.

Prouvé was known for his functional designs with an industrial aesthetic, and the Fauteuil Direction Pivotant is no exception. The chair features a sleek metal frame made of tubular steel and bent sheet steel, with wooden armrests in natural oak, dark stained oak, or American walnut.

The chair’s height-adjustable seat and tilt mechanism can be adapted to the user’s weight, while generous seat and backrest cushions provide comfort. The chair is upholstered in leather or fabric in a variety of colours, making it suitable for office/workplace use or as a dining chair.

The Fauteuil Direction Pivotant has a five-star base with double casters that allows the chair to swivel and roll. The seat height adjusts from 16″-20.5″, and the overall height adjusts from 32.75″-37.5″. Prouvé’s signature structural style and attention to functionality are evident in the chair’s design, which combines comfort and strong visual appeal.

Other Vitra Design Classics

  • Panton Chair – Designed by Verner Panton in 1960, this was the first chair to be produced in a single piece of plastic. Its bright colours and sculptural shape make it an iconic expression of Vitra’s design philosophy.
  • Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman – Designed in 1956 by Charles and Ray Eames, this leather lounge chair and ottoman are considered modern classics. Vitra has produced them since the 1970s in close collaboration with the Eames Office.
  • Eames Plastic Chair – Also designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940s, this mass-produced, affordable chair was revolutionary. It is made of moulded fibreglass and comes in a variety of colours.
  • Wassily Chair – Designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925-1926, this tubular steel chair with leather straps is an early example of modern industrial design. Vitra has produced it since the 1980s.
  • Bubble Club Armchair – Created by Eero Aarnio in 1963, this ball-shaped chair allows cocoon-like privacy. Its innovative use of plastics was groundbreaking.
  • Aluminium Chair – Designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1958, this iconic chair has a lightweight yet strong aluminium frame and stretch fabric sling seat. It was intended for outdoor use.
  • Soft Pad Chair – Created in 1969 by Charles and Ray Eames, this leather executive chair pioneered the use of soft, flexible cushions in office seating design.
  • Tip Ton Chair – Designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in 2011, this forward-tilting chair promotes healthier sitting postures. It won the Good Design Award.

Vitra has a long history of collaborating with some of the world’s most influential designers, including Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Jean Prouvé. Vitra refers to their designers as “authors,” and their personal imprint and outlook are reflected in every one of their products.

The company uses its own offices as an experimental laboratory for new ideas and concepts, and each office has its own identity, serving the needs of the respective teams.

Vitra continues to be at the forefront of office furniture design by collaborating with renowned designers, experimenting with new ideas and concepts, and creating functional and aesthetically pleasing products. Their commitment to good design that solves problems has resulted in innovative solutions that support and delight their users.

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