By Charlotte Luxford
Interior Architect Tom Giannini talks to MidCentury magazine about why he collects Vitra chair miniatures
What made you start collecting Vitra miniature chairs?
As a boy growing up in California, I was always interested in miniatures: Lego; Tonka trucks; Matchbox cars etc. Now I am an interior architect and we specify furniture for our projects. I was given a miniature Vitra Panton chair as a party favour years ago and that was it – I was hooked. Vitra’s London showroom is just around the corner from our office and they have a selection of modernist miniatures on display. I used to pass there often and admire them.
Why buy Vitra chair miniatures and not the full scale pieces?
Several reasons: first, I love the miniature scale. Second, I do not have the space for all the Mid Century Modern chairs I would want to own, and third, cost. Although the modernist miniatures are expensive, they are less expensive than the full-scale mid century equivalents. Having said all that, I do have some full-scale Vitra design classics that I have collected over the years: Eames Plywood chair; Eames Aluminum chair; Hoffmann’s Prague chair and Wegner’s Peacock chair.
How many Vitra chair miniatures do you own?
I now have 215 miniature modernist chairs in my collection. Most I bought on eBay over the years. I had a very active period of about two years where I bought on average a chair a week until I had found all the retired and limited edition chairs. I now add chairs from Vitra’s current collection to my own mid century collection. I still have 16 to go.
Others are special editions that Vitra gave as gifts to their dealers and special friends, which were not sold in shops. This week I bought a rare retired chair (found for me by a reader of my blog) from the gift shop at the Guggenheim, Bilbao.
Which Vitra chair miniatures are your star pieces?
There have been a few: Vitra only made 500 chair miniatures of the Lockheed Lounge by Marc Newson. It was retired years before I started collecting, but I was offered one by a reader of my blog – it is one of my most prized miniatures, and very valuable. Vitra also only made a limited number of cowhide covered Eames LCW chair miniatures (I have been told it is as few as 100). I searched on eBay for five years before one came up for auction, which I won. It is my ultimate find.
Do you have any advice for potential Vitra chair miniatures collectors?
Count the cost before starting: it is a very expensive hobby, as there is always another one to buy! They come in wooden boxes and with information booklets – keep them safe. The Vitra miniatures are considerably less valuable without the box and booklet.
Vitra chairs: A miniature story
While these pared-down modernist classics are irresistible to the space-saving design enthusiast, Vitra didn’t initially set out to create the miniature models as collector’s items; they were borne out of practicality. Design classes at universities repeatedly asked the furniture company if they could borrow chairs from the Vitra Design Museum (an exemplary Frank Gehry structure based within the grounds of their factory in Switzerland). After shipping out the full-scale models in the early days, Vitra soon realised that due to their fragility and value they would have to come up with an alternative.
Now these miniature design gems are a worldwide phenomenon and swiftly becoming valuable collectors’ items. While the Vitra miniature collection began in 1992, initially with 25 chairs, Vitra added to it every year thereafter with both new and ‘retired’ models, meaning there are now almost 100 different models to collect.
The chairs selected are mainly based on the contents of the Vitra Museum’s collection and now serve to present the history of Vitra’s designs to visitors. Each model is painstakingly constructed to match the original – Vitra often collaborate with the designers to develop miniatures of their designs, making them not only true representations, but also valuable items in their own right.
Founded in 1950, Vitra has always had its roots firmly grounded in mid century design and follows in the footsteps of Vitra founders Charles and Ray Eames in creating sustainable products, right down to the miniatures.
Useful Links and Information
For more information on The Vitra Design Museum and to buy miniatures online, go to www.design-museum.de or take a trip to the London showroom at 30 Clerkenwell Road. To read more about Tom’s collection, visit www.miniaturechairman.com