Norse Republics introduces Vitra to its portfolio. We sat down with Managing Director Veekrit “Ong” Palarit, to discuss his views on the brand, the future of office spaces, and pushing the boundaries between work and home.
Occupying its own chic extension on the second floor of the House of Fritz Hansen, the Vitra Showroom is fascinatingly different from any furniture flagship we’ve seen before. Airy, naturally lit interiors form an inviting backdrop to a space buzzing with activity. Under Norse Republic’s ‘Live Office’ display concept, the space showcases Vitra’s signature pieces by blending the showroom with the company’s actual main office, offering visitors a glimpse of the furniture in its most natural, used form.
In a corner, team members are highly engrossed in sifting through documents over an adjustable Vitra ‘Hack’ table, while on the other side of the room we spot someone pulling on their ‘Follow Me’ — a charmingly robust, portable compartment with integrated storage spaces.
Reputed for unique designs — carefully created by famed designers over the centuries — Vitra offers an impressive line of multifunctional furniture that belong perfectly in the office, and at home. Appealing to a clientele of young, modern patrons, the Swiss-based brand adds the perfect touch of innovation and modernity to inspire us in these rapidly changing, “new normal” times. We had a quick chat with Veekrit “Ong” Palarit, to hear his thoughts on bringing Vitra to Thailand, and what lies ahead for how we design our offices and homes.
Why Vitra? How does it fit with the current Norse Republics brand portfolio?
Vitra is a brand I’ve appreciated for a very long time — since I was a student, actually. It’s in a lot of history books, and as a student you sometimes come across designs that you feel are so special, and they just stay with you. When we started Norse Republics, we began with Fritz Hansen, which is more of a residential furniture brand. Then after that came Hay, which focuses more on contract projects like restaurants, and premium work spaces. So if you look at our portfolio in this way, Vitra is a really good fit, because it takes up that space between home and office products. You’ve got designs in both categories — the furniture can be used in your home, or in your work space.
A space between home and office — can you tell us more about this?
Before, the gap between office furniture and home furniture was very big. Vitra kind of blurs that line. It’s a very interesting idea they call “collage”, which means your office furniture can be used at home, and your home furniture can be used in the office. If you look closely at the designs, there are no knots or levers, so the chairs don’t come across as rigid or robotic. Even if you were using a Vitra chair in the office, if you took it home, it would feel like it’s a part of your home furniture.
Why did you decide on this Live Office Space Solution concept?
It took me a long time to think about where the Vitra showroom would be, but then we decided it would be best if we used our own office, as an example for our clients. I like to be transparent, and I like the idea that people can comfortably come to our office, and see how we work. This way, our customers can also sit and work together with us, or even drink some coffee. It’s a way to get people to interact more with our team, and also understand us from how our back office works.
So this is really your main office?
Yes, this is our real office. So for example, that table you see over there is actually for sales and marketing, but today they’re all out to meet clients. We use up the whole area, and I want to represent in this way that Vitra furniture is not fully for the office or for the home — it can really be used for both. Since we’re using our office as a showroom as well, we try to change the layout often so customers can come in and experience something different. If you came here two weeks ago, things wouldn’t look this way — we’re constantly moving things around, and because the furniture is designed to be quite flexible, it doesn’t interfere with our work.
What kind of experience do you hope for visitors to have?
I like the idea of people sneaking into other people’s private space. It’s always interesting to walk into somebody else’s home, and I want people to feel that way. When we decided on this set-up, we wanted clients to be able to come in and see which furniture we as a company actually use in our space, and be able to talk to us freely. I really like it especially when students come to our showroom, and start looking for small details in the furniture. I don’t want them to feel like they don’t belong here — I want them to feel like, even if they aren’t customers, they can always come, and I’m always very happy to tell them everything. We sometimes have students drop by the showroom, and I just want to go up to them and say “It’s okay. You can look, you can ask, you can do anything. Don’t worry.”
Would you say this kind of interactive showroom is more effective?
I don’t know for certain, but this is the way we are. When you go into someone’s house and everything seems so neat and unused, it feels almost unreal. The environment here is very different from any other showroom, because we actually use the furniture ourselves, so we really don’t mind if you sit on it. When I was a student I always felt very uncomfortable going to furniture showrooms as well, and I don’t want people to feel the same way here — who knows, in the future, they might become our clients.
How do you think office spaces will look in the future?
Vitra is very advanced in developing concepts for the future. In Europe, for instance, office spaces are no longer long term investments, and I think this is something that will happen in Thailand soon. Offices may rent out a space for no more than three years, and once the contract is over they move out to a new space, so all the office furniture has to be movable, and easily installed. Which is why Vitra has a lot of designs that are flexible and have many functions. For instance, this white board over here, they call them “dancing walls” — you can pull a few together and fasten them to create a small meeting room. It’s through details like this that Vitra redefines the office space, which in the past used to be quite fixed.
What tips do you have for someone looking to create a living/working space?
I think no matter home or office, you should be able to work everywhere. You shouldn’t have to sit at the table all the time, because that can get quite boring. When you have more spaces you can work from, it’s easier to get inspired. For me, I would go for a sofa that you can use as both a home item, and a work sofa. Vitra also has these adjustable tables that you can easily pull towards you — many of the tables also have adjustable angles to make them easier to work from. Our company’s philosophy is “design defines you”, so just like how you choose the way you dress and how other people perceive you, your space too should reflect your lifestyle, or the culture of your company.
Can you recommend a key item to own?
I would say the Standard Chair is one of my favourites, because it’s also really iconic. A lot of people loved the design. I’ve seen some of the old pieces, like the vintage designs, on sale and the prices were really high. These chairs are very popular and well-recognised, and once people use them for a period of time, it creates a lot of patinas, and the chair becomes very collectible. I found a vintage reseller in New York and they’re selling this Standard Chair for 25,000USD.
How would you mix and match Vitra furniture with other decor items?
We always consult with clients on how they want their space to be, and if they pick a certain item, we can recommend them on what other items to pick. For instance, if a client had picked Vitra, I wouldn’t recommend Gubi because they’re totally different. Vitra and Fritz Hansen, though, can sometimes mix. I think for most people who end up purchasing iconic designs — say for instance, the Heart Cone Chair — they treat their homes more like a collection of art. So there’s no right or wrong, when you’re putting art together, and if you consider your furniture as art pieces, they speak for themselves. One thing about Vitra though, is that while other brands outsource their fabric suppliers, Vitra has their own fabric, so they control their colour palettes. That’s why it’s easier to mix and match; you can pick a red piece, and pair it with another blue item, but they would still go well together.
Can bigger companies use Vitra in their spaces?
Personally, I hope that in the future, design can become something very integrated into our daily lives. It’s something I hope people can become more exposed to, and accustomed to, so it doesn’t have to be treated as a luxury that is unreachable. With Vitra, the range of potential clients is actually quite big. For example, larger offices may not have the budget to invest in all our furniture items to fill their entire space, but there are definite focal points they can choose to highlight, like reception areas and rest areas. Sometimes just touching on these points can also bring out a whole new experience.
What makes a design iconic?
It’s a tough question. I think for Vitra, the reason their designs have become so iconic throughout the years is because the designers behind them spent a lot of time on research. They really studied the human figure, and the trends and manufacturing technologies that made their products stand out. A good example is the Panton chair — it’s the first ever chair that was designed from a single mold. I think that kind of benchmarked a lot of other designs that followed, and why it still stays relevant to this day. Be innovative, and invent something new, that people will remember.
To find out more about Vitra, visit norserepublics.com.