So I said to my brother as we began our wander through a thrift store near his place, “we’re hunting treasures”. After a decade of decorating my 620 square foot home, my needs are pretty limited, that is, I need nothing, but that doesn’t stop a thrifter from seeking out cool stuff. Need is irrelevant. After picking up and putting down a few items, we were near the end of the last aisle when I came across an old, metal Singer sewing machine on an upper shelf that I thought might be good for a friend of mine who sews leather woodworking aprons. As I struggled to find a price tag on the machine, I had to keep kicking something on the floor out of my way so I could get closer. Finally, I looked down at the offending object, and I smiled. I turned to my brother, who was being exceedingly patient for a shopping trip in which he wasn’t totally invested, and I said “stand right here and don’t let anyone touch these. I’m going to get a cart.”
You see, ten years ago, just after moving into my house, my mother and I happened upon a yard sale. The seniors’ centre was going to be bulldozed to make room for a park (…pause while I try to imagine how that that town meeting went…) and they were selling off the contents. With no dining chairs at the time, I snapped up four sleek-looking chrome and plywood chairs for $2 a piece. My mom and I then carried them all the way home (about a ten-minute walk).
Several times over the years, as my décor shifted from ‘student-era’ to ‘sort-of-sophisticated’ (hard to be completely sophisticated when your colour pallet is apple green, aqua and pink), my mother would be heard asking “when are you going to replace those chairs with proper chairs?” as though two-dollar chairs are not proper. Determined to prove that my beloved chairs could exist in a grown-up abode, I scoured the internet to find the evidence I required. It took nine years and the invention of Pinterest for the facts to present themselves, but, one night, I stumbled upon this photo:
Eureka, there they are! And they’re even blue like mine! (It’s so vindicating to discover you’re not the only one who appreciates something, isn’t it?) These mid-century chairs are from the 1950s and are known as Viko Baumritter dining chairs. Granted, my “Viko” chairs are, like many things from that era, vintage reproductions. Seemed like in the 50s and 60s you could just see a design you liked and then whip up something very similar in your factory and you were in business. (Just ask the Eames brothers how common that was.) Mine have the same bent plywood backs (a classic MCM feature) and the seat is the same shape, but the legs are chrome and cross underneath the seat like an ‘x’. Viko’s were copper and the legs were straight under the seat.
Now, jump ahead to a thrift store several months later. That object under the sewing machine? It’s one of four more Viko-esque dining chairs and they are priced at $5.99 each. Triple the price of my first set, but you won’t hear me complaining!
What’s so special?
I didn’t need another set of dining chairs, but these were calling to me. “Look at us,” they said, “we are the treasure you seeeek”. I knew right away I was going to sell the chairs and my profit would go towards more treasure hunting. No, they’re not authentic, but I can tell you after ten years of sitting in a similar set, they are very comfortable for long evenings around the table and they go with just about any furniture style. They are also so simple to recover that I once recovered mine for one night, just for the sake of a book club theme.
The name Viko Baumritter sounds like a person, but it comes from the Viko Furniture Company which was a line of 150 furniture pieces that the Baumritter Corporation acquired and then sold as a subsidiary. You can read a bit of history about the Baumritter company here, but the most interesting fact, I think, is that they started out in 1932 making garden gnomes before they got into furniture and later changed their name to Ethan Allen. Just goes to show that even a company with the humblest of beginnings can bury their past and become ultra snobby. (From garden gnomes to platinum cards…well played E.A.)
Nevertheless, the Viko name is one I think should be much better known today, although it’s great that a collector can still find pieces of real Viko for next to nothing. The tubular steel furniture was pretty awesome and the design ethos was to make well-designed, yet affordable and durable furnishings for the discerning female buyer. And shouldn’t that always be the way? A typical feature of Viko chairs is their tubular steel legs, often in a copper finish, which is pretty unique. Their dramatic, angular stance is also a feature which the reproductions copy with varying degrees of success. Wood pieces were also made under the Viko line and a quick search of Pinterest for “Viko Baumritter” shows some really neat stuff including some pieces you might recognize, but hadn’t realized were Viko.
Here’s a pretty cool vintage ad I found for some of the other furniture from the Viko line.
What I did to them.
I left my second set of chairs ‘as is’ since I was selling them. The chrome on the legs and the varnish on the backrest were in excellent shape. With my first set of Viko-esque dining chairs I covered the black vinyl with blue faux snakeskin. The chrome and varnish are not as clean as the second set, but I’ve been meaning to try the “vinegar and tin foil” method for shining up the chrome. They were originally paired with a $40 table from a discount outlet. These days they sit around my mission-style antique table. I think they look perfectly at home with either option. However, they do look spectacular with a nice, trendy Danish teak. See below.
Authentic Viko Baumritter dining chairs can bring in $150 to $200 each at time of writing (2015). Obviously, reproductions won’t, and shouldn’t, bring as much. However, as a set of dining chairs that are comfy and sleek, they are still great additions to an MCM dining room or kitchen. (And did I mention they’re also stackable? Yay for small spaces!) Should a cool vintage piece in great condition, regardless of maker, cost as much as a new chair? I would say ‘yes’ in this case. As for the set I found at Value Village, I have a special fondness for them since they were made in the Toronto area. It’s always cool to find housewares and furniture from Canada’s heyday of manufacturing. As it happens, the family who purchased my Viko-esque chairs were from Toronto and they had been looking for some cool, comfortable chairs for their vintage kitchen for a while. I love that they had nearly given up and gone to IKEA when the husband came across my online listing that morning. A similar quality chair from IKEA would run you anywhere from $60-$100 and that seems like a very fair range for a solid Viko reproduction to me. And I couldn’t be more thrilled that the chairs were rescued from obscurity and are now laughing it up around a family table.
Speaking of tables…the photo below shows an original Viko Baumritter table that would have come with the set of chairs. Very cool for the lady who picked up the set on eBay for $499 back in 2015.
Learn more about Viko Baumritter
I cam across a thread on a message board from 2002 which is, sadly, no longer available, but it was a humorous example of how little people knew about Viko Baumritter a decade ago. I got my first reproduction set in 2005 and it took until late 2014 before I ran across the Viko brand. Today if you run a search online the name brings up a whack of Viko-loving addicts. (And for all those in 2002 who were questioning the value, your pieces have appreciated nicely.)
A note for all those posts that call everything “Eames-era Danish teak” to sell stuff online…they’re not Eames and they’re not Danish. They’re Viko and they’re American. Isn’t that good enough for you? Sheesh.
What are they? Reproductions of Viko Baumritter dining chairs.
When were they made? 1950s
Are they collectible? Yes, very, but only the cool kids know it. People who covet MCM are willing to pay for Viko, but, thankfully, they don’t always have to because the name is still on the fringes.
These chairs are SOLD!
Oh, and about my brother’s lack of investment in thrifting with me? As he and I stood in line with my cool find, a couple came into the store and were literally agog over my find. After that my brother became so invested that he insisted on a 60/40 split on the as yet unrealized profits. Oh well, at least he won’t grumble the next time I drag him through a thrift store. Oh, and I totally forgot about the sewing machine for my friend. Oops!