I have a vintage Knoll B.K.F. (butterfly chair) that dates to about 1960. My mother bought it before I was born and I inherited it when I bought my first house more than ten years ago. The butterfly chair is credited with being designed by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in 1938, but is widely attributed to mid-century modern design due to its distribution by Knoll furniture beginning in the 1940’s.
The original design for this popular chair dates from 1938, when GATCPAC member Antoni Bonet left le Corbusier’s studio and went into self-induced exile in Buenos Aires. While living in Buenos Aires, Bonet together with a group of Argentinean architects, they established the Grupo Austral based on GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the progress of contemporary architecture) principles. Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy was one of the founding members of the group. Hardoy graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1939, he had lived the previous year in Paris, where he worked with Bonet and le Corbusier in the development of the “Plan Director para Buenos Aires.” Hardoy is probably best known internationally for his BKF chair, designed together with Juan Kurchan and Antonio Bonet in 1939 yet his work spans far beyond this singular item.
The B.F.K. chair was originally designed for a building in Buenos Aires, designed by the three architects in 1939. The first name given to the chair was “Southern”, but then they developed a new name by using the first letters of the name of their creators, B.F.K.. later the chair simply became known as the “butterfly chair” or even as the “Hardoy chair”.
The actual chair design was inspired by chairs used by the British military in North Africa in the nineteenth century. The B.F.K. however is an object much more refined and simple. A sculptural object that is light years away from the folding canvas chairs used by the military. The impossibly thin, light design was achieved by using two thin steel loops, bent and welded together, which were hand polished to create a seamless finish. Even the earliest chairs produced in Argentina were treated with epoxy paint which was cured with high temperature baking to create a protective surface.
The first two B.F.K. chairs to come to the United States went to Fallingwater, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.’s home in Pennsylvania designed by family friend Frank Lloyd Wright. Edgar Kaufmann accurately predicted that this lightweight and inexpensive to manufacture lounge chair would become hugely popular in the U.S. The B.K.F. chair was produced by Artek-Pascoe from 1941 to 1948. Knoll Associates acquired U.S. production rights in the late 1940s and unsuccessfully pursued legal action against unauthorized copies, which continue to be produced to this day.