Chair Documentary Free for a Short Time

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If you are into chairs and history, make time very soon to watch this 90-minute film: “Chair Times: A History of Seating – From 1800 to Today.” The Vitra Design Museum is streaming it for free right now, and I don’t know how long that will last.

The film is a beautiful tour through a portion of Vitra’s historical collection of chairs, which spans more than 200 years of commercial production. The film, which is in German, French and English (with English subtitles), covers the work of many of the important designers and innovators – particularly in the 20th century.

Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman emeritus of Vitra, is the host, and he and his guests examine the chairs and discuss what is important or interesting about them (it’s like a very refined Chair Chat).

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Many of these chairs are not to my taste at all. There is a lot of tubular steel and plastic that receives a lot of praise. But the enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the people in the film make it a joy to watch (even if you would stab an inflatable plastic chair to death just on principle).

Vitra produces many beautiful chairs. It also makes delightful miniature versions of historical chairs that are astonishing in their detail (I’ve seen several in person). These miniatures are used in the film and are also worth seeing.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Thanks to Matthew Johnson for the tip on the film.

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to Chair Documentary Free for a Short Time

  1. jdcook72 says:

    No miniature resin hand 🖐️?

  2. Rudy Everts says:

    Thanks a lot, great video! I love the miniature chairs.

  3. Count_Studoku says:

    “The film, which is in German, French and English (with English subtitles)”

    Oooh I hope to see an English commentator speaking English with English subtitles. That alone would be worth the price of admission!

    In all seriousness, thanks. I look forward to watching for real.

  4. Goerge Jonuschat says:

    What a find! I wasn’t even aware this film existed. Thanks for posting!!

  5. Ann Dinsmoor says:

    Extraordinary! Literally takes my breath away. Like a design frenzy for me, a woodworker!

  6. Justin L says:

    At first I thought, “Sweet! Chairs, and Alan Arkin!” Alas, it is not Alan. But there are many chairs.

  7. Pascal Teste says:

    Thank you! Much appreciated!

  8. Ozan says:

    Not to be apologetic for plastic as home furniture but you have to admit plastic as a material for the exploration of a chair’s function and its art has interestings properties. And to see that they do plastic restoration was eye opening to me. Even if I know most plastic things are just taking a detour through our houses from the factory to the landfill it looks like some of it is here to stay and serve as museum showpieces of the furniture culture of our times.

    • Jesse Griggs says:

      I think the problem with plastic furniture is the same that has plagued factory made wooden furniture. The bean counters think they can save 2 tenths of a cent per item by thinning the piece down from 1″ to 7/8″ thick. then another bean counter says, make it 3/4″ and so on until you are left with a workbench made out of 3/16″ particle board which disintegrates before you finish looking for the long since culled directions. I bet that a properly made a plastic piece of furniture with sufficiently sized and designed parts would last many centuries past an equivalent piece out of wood. Though, that piece of plastic would be just as ugly as when it was first made.

    • ejcampbell says:

      Our local YMCA has chairs in some public spaces made from tubular steel legs and seat frame with a 1 piece molded plastic seat and back. The plastic has just the right amount of give and they are the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in.

  9. David Bentz says:

    Thanks for the tip. Fascinating. But whenever a subject gets covered in a collection comprehensive as this, yes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but the garbage parts are right there next to the gold. The documentary is exhibit A that among the principle functions of architects and designers is poetic use of language to mint the fragarance of perfume from the odor of feces. The hideousness of some of the (mostly ‘modern’) stinkers in it is in direct proportion to the elegance of the language used to describe them!

  10. Brett says:

    The Vitra Design Museum is a pretty great experience. I studied at an architecture college that worshipped Bauhaus design and something that was said by one of the professors, Olivio Ferrari, is that you should always put contemporary art into context. Things that seem so banal now were absolutely revolutionary at the time of their inception. The Rietveld Red Blue might not seem like much now, but at the time, it was breaking barriers. The same for the Aalto Zig Zag, the Breuer bicycle inspired Wassily, the Ray Eames bent plywood, and Ghery’s Slapshot and Wiggle chairs. As an aside, the value engineering that Zaha Hadid did to make the columns work at the Vitra fire station is brilliant.

  11. helsaboat says:

    The Vitra Design Museum is a pretty great experience. I studied at an architecture college that worshipped Bauhaus design and something that was said by one of the professors, Olivio Ferrari, is that you should always put contemporary art into context. Things that seem so banal now were absolutely revolutionary at the time of their inception. The Rietveld Red Blue might not seem like much now, but at the time, it was breaking barriers. The same for the Aalto Zig Zag, the Breuer bicycle inspired Wassily, the Ray Eames bent plywood, and Ghery’s Slapshot and Wiggle chairs. As an aside, the value engineering that Zaha Hadid did to make the columns work at the Vitra fire station is brilliant.

  12. Eric James Campbell says:

    especially liked some of the formed plywood chairs. On the flatable chairs, note that the woman who had one said it only lasted a few weeks, so stabbing is not needed. They self destruct themselves.

  13. James Watriss says:

    Not sure I’d stab the inflatable chair on principle. I’d probably just do it for fun.

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