Some awfully cool furniture

Vitra Design Museum Miniatures Collection, MS Museum of Art

Every time I go into the Mississippi Museum of Art, I end up at a glass case right beside the entrance wishing I had brought my camera. The case is called Vitra Design Museum Miniatures Collection and it features a dozen or so tiny reproductions of famous chairs, some custom-made for specific buildings, but others mass produced and ubiquitous during certain periods of the 19th and 20th centuries. When I was visiting the museum’s Christmas nativity scene, I happily had my camera handy, and took pictures of the collection so that I can spend time with it to my heart’s content without freaking out the security guard.

While always intrigued by the display, I never really researched it until writing this post. As it turns out (and maybe I’m just the last person on earth to figure this out), the Vitra Miniatures Collection is based on a full-size collection begun by Alexander von Vegesack  and Rolf Fehlbaum at the Vitra Furniture Company (Weil am Rhein, Germany) back in the 1980s as inspiration for the company’s own designers. Today, the collection has grown into the Vitra Design Museum with over 6,000 pieces and is housed in a Frank Geary-designed building, the first Gehry design in Europe.

Vegesack discusses his collection philosophy in the interesting “Origins and Holdings of the Vitra Design Museum Collections“:

My own collection arose from an interest in the earliest examples of industrially produced furniture, Michael Thonet’s bentwood chairs. I was fascinated by the many variations of the designs, both functional and decorative, but even more so by Thonet’s vision of industrial mass production, realized through innovations in technology, design and marketing. The collection documented the development of manufacturing techniques, materials and forms of modern furniture from the beginning of the nineteenth century through the mid twentieth century. The focus was on laminated plywood and bentwood pieces by Michael Thonet, Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, Alvar Aalto and Charles & Ray Eames, as well as tubular steel furniture designed by Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In addition, I had also acquired examples of furniture made from papier mâché, Bakelite and fibreglass – materials likewise used in mass production – as well as archival documentation including photos of working processes, sales catalogues, publications on historic exhibitions and corresponding trade literature. Alongside important designs by the Eameses and George Nelson – both central pillars of Vitra’s furniture production – Rolf Fehlbaum’s collection also encompassed works by European designers such as Alvar Aalto, Jean Prouvé and Gerrit Rietveld. A sampling of some 150 pieces from the collection was exhibited on platforms in a large office space at Vitra as a historic model and inspiration for employees and customers.

Robie House I, Frank Lloyd Wright (1908)

Well, I certainly didn’t think I’d learn all that just from taking a few nerdy pictures at the art museum. I also didn’t realize that these and many other miniatures are for sale on the internet through the Vitra Design Museum Shop. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House chair can be had for 188 euros, which my computer tells me is about $260.00, and the Eames Lounge and Ottoman is a mere $671.00. Seriously, is it legal to put this kind of temptation out there for the innocent bystander to get pulled into?

I will now write “I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs” one hundred times.

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I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

I will not even think about buying any of these cool miniature chairs

. . . .

This punishment kind of loses its force in the world of cut and paste, doesn’t it?



Categories: Architectural Research

5 replies

  1. I’m not usually laughing out loud this early in the morning, but your closing was too superb. I’m thinking the punishment would be to have to sit in that Robie house chair–that could not have been comfortable.

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    • Glad to give you a morning laugh, especially on Friday! You’re right, Robie looks beautiful, but not only is the back too straight, it’s also so high it seems it would jam your chin right down on your chest, making for a dinner of a crowd of people struggling to look up during conversation and not dribble their food down their fronts. Oh well, it’s art . . .

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  2. those miniatures would look great in a scale modern design house . . . a fancy way of saying a “grown-up preservationist’s version of a dollhouse”

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  3. Hey, that Eames lounge chair would be perfect for my office! If I end up buying one, I’ll know who to blame! Great stuff E.L.!

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  4. I am afraid that I qualify as a philistine. It would be a very cold day indeed before I paid $671.00 for a chair that I cannot sit in. Come to think of it, I probably would not pay that much for a real chair, either, especially when I have salvaged so many pieces of interesting furniture off the side of the road that people have dumped, my favorite being my 1920s or 30s reclining office chair. Turns out, you can just pick up free furniture from the Victorian period through Mid-Century Modern by driving along the streets in the Shoals.

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