The history of the iconic Swiss furniture brand Vitra is undoubtedly a well-known story that has been told countless times. It is also a recurrent discussion on what is the brand’s most classic design, or which one is considered as the most avant-garde. Eames Chair and Panton Chair are so distinguishable that even people unrelated to the field of design and brands can also recognise. Although many might have merely seen the unauthorised replica of these designs, Vitra is still a legendary brand that can transcend the boundary of the confined circle.
Anni Hayashi was born in Finland and is currently residing in Japan. Seizing her chance as an exchange student in university, Hayashi decided to migrate from the frosty Finland to the comparatively warmer Japan. It then marked the beginning of her life in Asia. Three years ago, after leaving her position as the Director of Asia at Artek, Hayashi became Head of Segment Home Asia & Middle East at Vitra. During her visit to Hong Kong for an event hosted by the General Consulate of Finland, we took the opportunity to talk to her about the philosophy behind Vitra’s design and management, the collaboration with Blue Bottle Coffee in recent years, the new designs for Milan Design Week 2017, her daily observation, as well as her beautiful encounter with Vitra and furniture design.
When and why did you start living in Japan? What is the most interesting experience that you could share with our readers?
I moved to Japan for the first time in 1999, it was exactly 18 years ago and originally it was only for my study. I was majoring in the economy of Japan, but not design. When I first went to Japan, it was completely different from what I used to. For example, when I wanted to get out of a train station, quite often I just took the wrong exit. Of course, it doesn’t happen anymore. It’s been a long time. Luckily, I don’t easily get lost now.
Which part of your home, either in Finland or in Japan, that you like the most? Any memorable stories that you want to share?
Do you want an honest reply? My sofas in both places. Would you like to hear about the interior? Because I’ve worked in the furniture field for more than 10 years now, I keep lots of items in both of my homes. They bring back memories; many items were created as some kinds of collaborations with the customers. For example, I have a stool, which was my first project with the Japanese for a special version of Artek product (Hayashi was the Area Manager of Asia at Artek before joining Vitra after it acquired Artek.). I was working with Beams for their 30th anniversary and made a stool for them in orange colour tone. After 10 years, I’m still using it in my home. And that’s just one example, a lot of items like that are so important in my home.
“I would rather be in lack of furniture for a little while than having something I need but I don’t love.”
When I was still little, I would take [furniture] pieces from my parents’ home, or I would buy things from a recycling centre or places like that. But the point when I truly started to buy my own design furniture only began after I started working in the field. I have quite a collection of such kind of stools over the past 10 years [in the field]. Actually, there was an item I really loved in the early days, and that was the Sori Yanagi’s Butterfly Stool. I found that so beautiful when I just started to work in Artek. It was a fascinating one. Once I could afford it, not [merely] from my first salary, I just bought it.
How do you categorise a furniture piece as a “need it” or “like it” item?
That is a good question. I wish I could give you a different answer. But I think, to be honest, When I fall in love with the pieces like the Butterfly Stool by Sori Yanagi, do I need it or I want it? I want it. So let’s put it this way, Since I know I will at the end run into pieces that I will fall in love with, therefore I never rush into decision when purchasing furniture. I know I will need something in the future. For example, when I move, I need a dining table and more chairs, but I never rush into decision, because I want to buy the one I truly fall in love with. Sometimes, I temporarily have only 3 chairs when I actually need 4. I would rather be in lack of furniture for a little while than having something I need but I don’t love.
Vitra frequently collaborates with different companies. What are the criteria for selecting companies to collaborate with?
We definitely don’t have a list of criteria. We don’t call it like that. What’s true is that we do collaborate a lot. The collaboration ranges from fashion to coffee shops. ‘Criteria’ is perhaps not the right word. But there is always something we share in common, like thoughts or culture that share similar grounds. We often begin with having a simple conversation with the person to find out something that clicks, and then turns it into a collaboration.
The collaboration between Vitra and Blue Bottle Coffee in 2015 was a huge topic that everyone talked about. Will there be any chance to collaborate with Blue Bottle Coffee again in the future?
Actually, there was a multitude of reasons: Blue Bottle Coffee was new in Japan, while Vitra was at the same time activating the consumer market in Japan. Our similar market approach thus easily linked us together. In 2015, our Vitra’s stand in Milan Design Week was designed by a Japanese architect called Jo Nagasaka. He is also the architect behind Blue Bottle Coffee. Therefore he’s actually the link that brought us together. The reason for us to work with Blue Bottle Coffee has a lot to do with right timing; like you said, we share many similar thoughts.
我們有Antonio Citterio的Grand Sofa，非常的棒，是一張優質的沙發。我們又有一張晚餐坐椅，由Bouroullec兄弟設計的一張非常舒服的晚餐坐椅，叫作Softshell Side Chair。其實很難說那一個最喜歡，不過如果只談個人層面的話，想要那個設計出現在我家裡的話，那就是Softshell Side Chair，它非常的舒適和漂亮。
這問題好難。我不確定能不能好好解釋，不過我腦海首先出現的是Eames House Bird。當你擁有Eames House Bird在你的房間時，它會轉換了房間的風景，不過它卻不是空間的焦點。Eames House Bird是一個裝飾品，如果你為一個空間照相，它的在場與否可以造成很大差別，不過它始終不是焦點，你的房間仍需要有其他的東西令它產生作用。我就是喜歡Eames House Bird的這種特質。
Could you select some of your favourite Vitra’s pieces from the “Fuorisalone 2017”? Can you elaborate a little?
We have the Grand Sofa by Antonio Citterio, which is gorgeous. It’s a sofa of premium quality. We have a new dining chair, a very comfortable dining chair by the Bouroullec brothers that is called Softshell Side Chair. It is really hard to say which is my favourite, but if we are talking on a personal level, like what I can imagine having at my home would be the Softshell Side Chair. It’s so comfortable and beautiful.
Could you choose a piece from Vitra that can represent yourself?
This is a very hard one. I don’t know if I can explain this well, but what first comes to my mind is the Eames House Bird. It simply changes the vibe of a room without becoming the focus of it. Eames House Bird is a mere decoration. But taking a photo of the interior with or without it makes a huge difference, without being the focus; you need other things in the room to make it work. I like the Eames House Bird for that kind of intrinsic quality.