A North American-based journal, such as furniturelink, may be skeptical (though envious) of the concept that a national government would finance an organization of ten employees solely for the purpose of supporting the country's furnishings industries. In 1979, France made that idea a reality with the inception of the non-profit association Valorisation de l'Innovation dans l'Ameublement (VIA) - translates as Development of Innovation in Furniture Manufacturing.
Funded by France's ministry of industry and under the auspices of CODIFA (French Furniture Industries Development Committee), VIA delivers on its mandate to provide services to the French furnishings sector (defined as furniture, lighting, tableware, decorative items, rugs, interior textiles, etc.) at home and abroad.
VIA oversees projects from its 900-square metre space, designed by world-renowned architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, under the red brick and stone arches of a former railway viaduct in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. The design gracefully accommodates five of the 19th-century arches to enclose a street-level 300-square metre gallery for rotating exhibitions above subterranean offices.
Miss folding table (left). Plywood and PU-coated fabric (Pierre-Léon Luneau).
Bookcase (centre). SLS-PA stereolithograpic polymer (Itmar Burstein).
P'tite Lulu chair (right). Solid and veneer sycamore (Bernard Moïse).
In the open-plan offices, furniturelink met in October 2007 with development consultant Philippe Jarniat to hear about VIA's plethora of activities (more N.A. envy). Given the limited time available, furniturelink could glean details about only some of VIA's endeavours, which include grants to established and new designers, school-based programs, market studies, designer database, publications, exhibitions, library, etc. From this huge range, furniturelink highlights three programs/projects (the VIA website provides a complete list).
Established to foster communication between stakeholders in the furnishings sector, this free online database lists over 630 France-based designers and approximately another 150 designers from other European countries. Applicants must submit a portfolio for approval to be added to this subscription-free service.
Chair (left). Laser cut aluminum sheet (Marie-Aurore Stiker-Metral).
Corky chair (centre). Steel wire and cork (Antoine Phelouzat).
Chair (right). Aluminum tube and sheet steel (Noé Noviant).
Annually, a panel of industry professionals short-lists 20 projects by young designers from hundreds of spontaneously submitted applications (no restrictions). Designs are produced as full-size finished prototypes in VIA-approved workshops and exhibited at the Paris furniture show in January.
This page features six designs presented at the Paris show in 2007 (above). Jarnait told VCR (now furniturelink) that major manufacturers in France and other European countries chose ten of the 2007 designs for production.
VIA (with other agencies) assisted Aprovalbois (Bourgogne Association for the Promotion and Utilization of Wood) to bring together nine Bourgogne (Burgundy) furniture manufacturers and seven designers. From this emerged a dozen eco-friendly prototypes, using local PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) wood, and presented at the Paris furniture show in 2007 (examples below). New projects in the ongoing program include cafeteria furniture by school furniture manufacturer Simire (see issue #087).
However, some critics view PEFC certification as an "industry friendly" scheme similar in stature to Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification in North America. Most eco-conscious designers and manufacturers prefer to specify wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) (see this Meridian Institute study).
Legend Bookcase (left). PEFC oak (Christophe Delecourt).
Cluny table (centre). PEFC oak (Nicolas Aubagnac).
Elvire chair (right). PEFC oak and beech plywood (Bruno Houssin).
As the above programs indicate, much of VIA's work involves coordinating with other agencies and institutions in France. A close alliance exists with the technical institute FCBA (Forêt, Cellulose, Bois, Ameublement) - until June 2007, known as Centre Technique du Bois et de l'Ameublement (CTBA), still used on its website as of November 2007.
FCBA provides Eurosit (see issue #086) with the expertise of its ergonomics department and workshops for Eco Design Bois Bourgogne participants.
In addition, FCBA acts as advisor for the French contribution toward the development of a European eco-label for furniture, as described in furniturelink's issue #080.
The success of VIA proves that furniture design, designers and producers benefit from government support, which in turn benefits the consumer. In this respect, today's North American furniture designers and manufacturers can only envy their counterparts in France.
© furniturelink 2007, (top image and text) other images © VIA