• Cindy W. Hodnett

Vitra's acquisition of Artek perfect Scandinavian business marriage

Vitra, a Swiss designVitra, a Swiss design and architecture firm that acquired Artek in September, produces the Panton chair and other modern designs.
HELSINKI - For many people familiar with modern design, the recent acquisition of Artek, an iconic Finnish design house founded by Alvar Aalto in 1935, by Vitra, a Swiss design and architecture firm, represents the perfect Scandinavian business marriage.
     Vitra acquired Artek in September, and company officials said that the deal would give Artek more global exposure and strengthen the company, previously owned by Swedish investment company Proventus.
     "The international dimension, which was a clear goal already in Artek's founding manifesto of 1935, needed to be revitalized," said Mirkku Kullberg, Artek's CEO, in a statement released with the initial announcement. "That arena is where we want to be, and alliances or ownership arrangements are one way of building the future."
     The details of the sale were not made public, but Kullberg said the companies share several synergies that will strengthen Artek during a prolonged economic downturn in Europe.
     "For Vitra, Aalto and Artek have been admired references for decades," Kullberg said during an exclusive interview with Furniture/Today. "Aalto is represented with over 200 objects in the collection of the Vitra Design Museum, and in 2014 the Vitra Design Museum is set to stage a major exhibition on Aalto. Artek, on the other hand, successfully represents Vitra in Finland. Both Artek and Vitra are more than commercial companies. They are projects that combine cultural commercial aspects."
     Aalto's stools and lamps, sold by Artek, are considered icons of modern style. Vitra manufactures the work of several renowned modern furniture designers, including Verner Panton and Charles and Ray Eames. The shared design aesthetic is an important component of the acquisition, according to Kullberg.
     "Artek and Vitra have similar value systems," she said. "They both have their roots in the modernist movement and share the conviction that the quality of our everyday lives can be improved by honest design. Both companies work with great classics - Vitra with the Eames, Nelson, Prouve' and Panton, and Artek with Aalto, (Ilmari) Tapiovaara and a recent collaboration with (Yrjo) Kukkapuro."
     The European economy continues to challenge established companies like Artek, and the company will be exploring ways to cut costs, officials said. Vitra has six production sites, including two in Germany and one in Zhuhai, China.

Alvar AaltoAlvar Aalto founded Artek in 1935.The Second Cycle storeThe Second Cycle store and museum in Helsinki showcases vintage modern design from companies including Artek.
This chairThis chair, manufactured by Artek, highlights the company’s modern design aesthetic.

     "There are a few synergy areas in company operations that Vitra and Artek have started to look at," Kullberg said. "The obvious ones relate to issues of distribution, manufacturing and logistics. Negotiations have started, and within the next year, both parties will know more about the actions.
     "At the moment, both parties will continue according to their own plans. It is the intention of Artek and Vitra to give the designs of Aalto and Tapiovaara greater exposure, and Vitra's channels will help to do so. But they are part of the Artek collection and Artek will continue to have its own presence and policy."

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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