Stine Liv Buur, who is in charge of Vitra’s classic furniture collection, is in her dream job where she gets to delve into design archives. The furniture created by Charles & Ray Eames are a passion for her but at the moment, however, the most important thing is the sustainability of the Eames collection.
“I WANT TO WORK for Vitra. It doesn’t matter what the job is, I just want to work for your company.” These are the words with which architect Stine Liv Buur, who had just completed a doctorate on luxury and Danish furniture tradition, started her job interview at Vitra ten years ago. Danish Stine had always admired Vitra, as the company not only manufactures design products but also has a strong cultural side. Working at Vitra was a dream job for Stine, who had been doing research on design and furniture for years.
Stine got her dream job, and has been working as Design Manager Classics at Vitra. In her work, she gets to draw on her extensive knowledge of the history of furniture and designers. Stine has also published books on the subject. The latest one is called Eames & Vitra, and it takes a look at the decades-long collaboration between the design duo and the furniture manufacturer.
Design Stories had the pleasure of meeting Stine Liv Buur while she was visiting Helsinki. We asked her, among other things, what makes the Eames furniture so popular and what do all the numerous Eames products have in common.
Hi, Stine! What makes the furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames classics?
“Charles and Ray Eames always designed new items based on need and to solve a concrete problem. In other words, they did not think about what a chair, for example, should look like but what kind of a problem it would solve. The form of the furniture was secondary to the function. Because the design process was like this, the products did not follow any trends and thus remained timeless.
They also designed many products based on the needs of their friends. For instance, the Aluminium collection was created because their designer friend Alexander Girard needed beautiful, high-quality outdoor furniture for the Miller House designed by Eero Saarinen.
The Eameses also often updated and modified their designs to keep them relevant. That’s why the products designed by the Eameses are timeless classics.”
What do the products designed by Charles and Ray Eames have in common?
“Each piece of Eames furniture is innovative and the first of its kind, which makes this question easy to answer. What they all have in common is either a new material or a new challenge that needed to be solved.
“What all Eames designs have in common is either a new material or a new challenge that needed to be solved.”
Let’s take the famous Eames shell chairs as an example. Charles and Ray were the first to create a seat suitable for industrial production, a chair in which the seat and the back were made of one piece without joints. They also came up with the idea of using a variety of legs in the chair, creating combinations suitable for different environments. That’s something you don’t think about today, but in the 1950s, it was revolutionary.”
The dimensions of the Eames Lounge Chair were recently increased to make the chairs a better fit for modern people. What do you think about adapting classic furniture to modern needs?
“I think it’s okay to modify classics to a certain extent. As I mentioned earlier, Charles and Ray Eames also modified their designs themselves whenever they saw the need. They made suggestions to the manufacturer about, for instance, changing the height of a particular chair or using European screws instead of US ones because they worked better. They thought that it was permissible – and even desirable – to modify the designs to meet current needs.
They followed this principle to the end of their lives, and now this work continues in close collaboration between Vitra and the Eames family. We here at Vitra also have a famous saying that I often use: ‘What would Charles and Ray think about this?’. Since I’ve done a great deal of research on them and worked with the Eames family for years, I believe I know the answer.”
• Read also: Vitra relaunches the fabric-upholstered Eames Lounge Chair >
How have sustainability and Vitra’s commitment to eco-friendliness affected the production of the Eames classics?
“Vitra is about to make a significant change related to this: starting from January 2024, the Eames plastic chairs will be made of recycled plastic. The polypropylene used in the chairs will be replaced with post-consumer plastic, meaning that the chairs will still be made of polypropylene, but the material will be almost 100% recycled.
We are also working hard in other areas related to sustainability, as our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030. Because of that, we have many ongoing change projects and are reviewing every product from the point of view of sustainability, starting with the most popular ones.”
Are there still some old Eames treasures waiting to be relaunched?
“The archives of Vitra Design Museum contain a great deal of beautiful furniture, and we have many good ideas that may be realized when the time is right. I’ve been thinking about, for example, these beautiful tables that can be folded and hung on the wall, as well as packaged flat. The Eameses also managed to think about that, which is probably why I’m so in love with these tables.
“At the moment, our most important task is to focus on the current Eames collection and make it environmentally sustainable.”
We cannot, however, keep launching new furniture but need to ask ourselves that do we really need another chair or table in the collection, even if it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. At the moment, our most important task is to focus on the current collection and make it environmentally sustainable.”
What does your home look like?
“I live with my family in a small town near Basel, in a somewhat rural area. Our house is lovely, a bit like a Swiss cottage, but modern. I actually dreamed of living in this small town when we were living elsewhere. Finally, after a persistent search, I found a suitable house for us here.
Naturally, our home is decorated with many pieces by Vitra and even some by Artek, such as the Eames Lounge Chair and Aalto bench, which we are using as a coffee table. I also really like old items, which I look for at flea markets in France – the flea markets there are just the best! We live right next to the border, so I visit France at least once a month with a friend. I do, however, only buy things that I need and will be put to use, as I’m no collector.”
What is your favorite Eames product?
“I never know how to answer this question, as I think that all the items they have designed are so innovative! But if I was asked which piece of Eames furniture I use the most, my answer would be the Eames Lounge Chair. It’s my favorite chair, and I sit in it after work with my feet up on the ottoman, sinking into its embrace. And the more I use the chair, the better it becomes.”
TOP3 favorites by Stine Liv Buur
1. Favorite city?
“Copenhagen, the capital of my home country. The funny thing is that it only became my favorite city when I moved abroad 10 years ago.”
2. Favorite TV series?
“Frasier is the first one that comes to mind. It always makes me laugh. The Danish series Matador is also an unrivalled masterpiece!”
3. Favorite scent?
“I love the smell of jasmine and clean linen.”
Text: Katri Keihäri Images: Vitra
Featured Eames products may not be available worldwide.