Updated 19 July 2019
Not nearly as fraught as the mess described in that article in The Guardian but a lot more expensive, last Saturday’s Vitra sample sale was a mostly civilised experience.
Having arrived at the Oxo Tower at 5.30am (!), I found myself fifth in the queue (the person at the front had been waiting since 4am), which steadily grew around the block as 9am approached. There was a bit of a scuffle behind me when someone thought it was acceptable behaviour to wander away from said queue for about an hour and a half and then reclaim his spot fifteen minutes before the sale opened but the wait was mostly tolerable thanks to my camp chair and reading materials.
Shortly before it opened, we were provided with a rough plan of the venue’s layout (accessories on the ground floor, living/office on the first and dining on the second), which allowed for an element of strategy.
When the doors finally opened, I immediately dashed up to the first floor to locate the lounge chair and desk that I’d planned to buy. There was no sign of the desk but there was, happily, a row of lounge chairs from which I could take my pick due to the fact that I was near the front of the queue. I briefly considered a version in green leather with a handsome palisander shell but it was in the new, larger dimensions, which I’m not a huge fan of (I think it makes the chair look cumbersome and a bit like one of those weirdly proportioned replicas) so I went for a sleek, all-black model (leather and wood panels) in the original, smaller dimensions.
The competitive atmosphere, encouraged by the sales staff (if I didn’t buy it, someone else would!) coupled with my moderate sleep deprivation meant that I didn’t pay much attention to the price on the sticker (it was discounted so that’d do!) and just headed for the tills. Only when I got home did I realise that I could have ordered the same chair in the Heal’s sale from the comfort of my own home for not a huge amount more. At the time of writing, I’m still waiting for my lounge chair to be delivered so I’m hoping that the slight feeling of buyer’s remorse will dissipate as soon as it arrives.
Looking around at the rest of the stock after I’d bought the lounge chair, it was all still pretty expensive. Desk chairs were about £300-500, dining chairs £150-300 and a lot of stuff (including that ESU bookcase unit and, to my shame, the lounge chair) still in the thousands. The only items going for under £100 were the accessories and those were snapped up pretty quickly.
My main tips for anyone attending any future Vitra sample sales are to arrive early (but 5.30am is probably unnecessary unless you’re looking to buy a not particularly discounted lounge chair) and take the sticker off any item that you’re interested in buying but carefully consider whether you could get the item more cheaply elsewhere with a proper warranty before paying – you can always put the sticker back (as I probably should have done).
10 July 2019
I’ve never attended a proper Vitra sample sale with everything at 60% off or more* but this Guardian coverage of a similar event in 2005 makes it sound like an absolute mess of an experience.
I’m really hoping that it won’t be quite as fraught or competitive this time as I frankly don’t have the time or the energy to compete with people with the commitment to camp outside the venue days in advance. I think one of the reasons for the ridiculousness last time was the way in which the organisers advertised a couple of “special buy” deals designed to whip up hysteria (e.g. an Eames lounger for £50) weeks in advance. Fortunately, they haven’t done that this time so it’ll hopefully be a bit more civilised.
All the same, I’m planning to get there early armed with a camp chair and a book. My probably unrealistic wish list consists of: an Eames lounger (which I’ve had my eye on for a while), an EDU desk (to replace the very 00s frosted glass one in my study) and some kind of pendant light – I will update this entry to let you know how I get on…
For those who want to take part in the bun fight, it’s scheduled to take place at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH on 13th July 2019 and runs from 9am to 5pm.
*That lame, expensive one in 2015 which just consisted of about 100 green Vegetal chairs doesn’t count.