Based in Birsfelden, Switzerland Vitra is a Swiss family-owned furniture and accessories manufacturer dedicated to developing healthy, intelligent, inspiring and durable solutions for the home, the office and public spaces.
Founded by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum in 1934, Vitra started life as a shop-fitting business but in the 1950s son Rolf Fehlbaum set up the Vitra furniture manufacturing company in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Vitra entered the furniture market with a license from the American based Herman Miller Company allowing them to produce its products in Europe.
The Herman Miller collection used mainly designs by Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson including George Nelson’s world famous Marshmallow sofa. In 1967 the company introduced Verner Panton’s Panton Chair which was the first cantilever chair made out of plastic. The most iconic design though is perhaps the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman which is produced in a range of wood finishes and leathers, including the white version launched in 2008 and a larger version to the original classic which was launched in 2011.
During the 1970s Vitra’s growing reputation for high-quality and innovative design was further enhanced by Rolf Felbaum who was made chief executive in 1977. Rolf’s dedication to great design was ever present when he commissioned highly skilled, contemporary architects to design new company buildings after a fire destroyed a large part of the Weil am Rhein factory in 1981.
The architects involved sought to create buildings that harmonised with both the surrounding residential areas and the natural landscape. The result is a diverse ensemble of inspiring structures with incredible density and quality which have made the architectural park an attraction for fans of architecture the world over. The architecture critic Philip Johnson once wrote: “Not since the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart in 1927 has there been a gathering in a single place of a group of buildings designed by the most distinguished architects in the Western world.”
Now known as the Vitra Campus the site includes a Manufacturing Hall by British architect Nicholas Grimshaw, a Conference Building by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, a Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, Factory Building, Passage Cover and Car Parking by Alvaro Siza, the VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron and the world-famous Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry, the first public building on the campus.
The Vitra Design Museum came from a desire to combine and make accessible two furniture collections – one compiled by Rolf Fehlbaum for Vitra starting in the early 1980s, the other that Alexander von Vegesack began as a personal initiative in the late 1960s. These ever growing collections of have evolved from around 1000 objects in the 1980s to approximately 6000 pieces today.
In recent decades Vitra has became widely regognised as a fashionable manufacturer of high quality, well designed furniture ranging from well known Mid-Century Modern pieces to present-day future classics. In the 1980s Vitra launched its ‘Vitra Editions’ initiative which commissioned experimental designs from a range of designers including Ron Arad, Frank O. Gehry, Shiro Kuramata, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Borek Sípek and Philippe Starck. Amongst the best-known chairs commissioned by the scheme are Kuramata’s 1986 ‘How High the Moon’ Sípek's 1988 Ota Otanek chair and Philippe Starck's 1992 Louix XX stacking chair.
Vitra products have received numerous design-related awards and have been used in a wide range of high-profile settings, including the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Dubai International Airport and the Munich International Airport. In 1994 Rolf Fehlbaum was given the Lucky Strike Design Award.
Today Vitra manufactures the furniture and works of many internationally renowned designers notably Charles & Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Jasper Morrison, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby (BarberOsgerby) , Verner Panton, George Nelson, Antonio Citterio, Jean Prouve, Alexander Girard, Antonio Citterio, Frank Gehry, Alberto Meda, Maarten van Severen, Ronan, Hella Jongerius and Erwan Bouroullec.