In mid September I had the opportunity to visit the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, which is a town right next to Basel in Switzerland. Vitra is a Swiss furniture brand well-known for their designer furniture and particularly several iconic chair designs.
The visit to Vitra included a two hour walking tour of the campus and we got to see some famous buildings by very famous architects including Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Tadao Ando.
The last stop of the day was the VitraHaus which is basically a four-storey show house for all the Vitra furniture. After a refreshing scoop of gelato (it was a very warm summer’s day!), we visited the gift shop. There were lots of books about design and architecture, but one in particular called out to me.
The Lucky, Plucky Chairs by Rolf Fehlbaum, illustrated by Maira Kalman is a whimsical tale of how eight classic Thonet chairs came to life to escape being disposed of by burning by an unappreciative owner. The second half of the book is a glossary of 22 iconic chair designs, with the entire book illustrated in Kalman’s unique style.
A regular contributor of cover illustrations as well as illustrated columns for the New Yorker, Maria Kalman is also the author of several books for children and for adults, and she created the illustrated edition of the Strunk and White classic treatise on writing and grammar, The Elements of Style.
There are also many videos on YouTube featuring Maria Kalman talking about her life and work. (rabbit hole warning!)
In this YouTube clip you can see the models of the chairs featured in the glossary of The Lucky, Plucky Chairs, starting at 30 seconds into the video.
Another great video to watch is her 2007 TedTalk – The Illustrated Woman.
P.S. If you get a chance to visit the Vitra Design Museum, don’t forget to try the slide!