Design Friday. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair.

Last Friday I did a Design Friday post on the B.F.K. Chair by Jorge Hardoy. After I posted it I got an email from someone who had read it asking about other famous “mid-century modern” chairs like the “Barcelona Chair” by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. So I thought I would do a little post on that chair today.

First off, the Barcelona chair is NOT mid-century modern. It often gets lumped in with that period of furniture do to the fact that it shows up in so many interior architecture photos from the late 40’s through mid 60’s. The fact is though, the chair was designed 20 years before mid-century modernism starts, in 1929 for the German pavilion at the International Exposition in Barcelona Spain.

At the time van der Rohe shouldered a huge responsibility to create a special building that would announce Germany’s rebirth as a country of  cultural prowess, showcase their creative achievements and commercial viability in the 10 years following WWI.

The frame was originally designed to be bolted together, but was redesigned in 1950 using welded stainless steel. The new process allowed the frame to form a seamless piece of metal, giving it a smoother and more refined appearance. In addition, cow leather replaced the ivory-colored pigskin which was used with the original chairs from previous decades. The functional design and manufacturing elements of the chair that were patented by van der Rohe in Germany, Spain and the United States in the 1930s have since expired. Which has led to numerous knock-offs and fakes being produced world wide for far less money.

The “Barcelona chair” was manufactured in the US and Europe in limited production from the 1930s to the 1950s. In 1953 van der Rohe ceded his rights and his name on the design to Knoll, knowing that his design patents were expired, and realizing that Knoll was in a position to effectively promote the chair. The collaboration between van der Rohe and Knoll renewed popularity of the original design. Knoll is still the current licensed manufacturer and holder of all trademark rights to the design. In 1965, Knoll purchased the trademark rights to the Barcelona word from Drexel. In 2004, Knoll received trade dress rights to the design from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Despite the trademarks that Knoll holds, a large replica market continues to this day. Gordon International  has continued to manufacture the chair and accompanying furniture since the mid 1970s, even after a court battle against Knoll in 2005.

“van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair is an icon of “modernism”. The chair’s design was inspired by the campaign and folding chairs of ancient times. By transposing an ancient and regal design into a modern setting, the van der Rohe enjoyed instant acclaim. The chair was shown off perfectly in the environment of the Pavilion. Royal visitors, it is said, did not actually take advantage of this newly designed seating accommodation, but the chair quickly attained the reputation of being “a design worthy of kings”.”


Design Friday. The B.F.K. Chair. Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy.

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.

Before Photoshop there was Jerry N. Uelsmann.

I work in Adobe Photoshop almost every day of the week. And I have been using it since the days when it was still branded Knoll not Adobe, which is like 100 years ago in computer speak. At this point in my career, I take for granted the power that Photoshop has given so many of us to easily create visually stunning images composited together from multiple sources.That is why, when I revisit works by Jerry N. Uelsmann, I am always blown away by what he created in camera, and in the darkroom. All of these images are film based, and none of them have been Photoshopped. Uelsmann has been doing this kind of work since the 1950’s and he is a true master of his craft.

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Jens Risom Reissued. Nine Risom Classics Born Again.

Sometimes you find something on the internet that truly makes you stop and say “wow”. This is one of those things. and since I’ll never be able to afford one of the original mint condition Jens Risom pieces from the 1950’s, I perfectly cool with owning a reissue of this caliber.

London’s Rocket Gallery is reissuing nine pieces of Jens Risom. The release of these pieces of furniture is the result of a four-year collaboration between Jens Risom and Rocket Gallery owner John Stephenson. Rocket Gallery hosted the first ever retrospective of Risom’s work in 2007 and from this the new collection was born.

Risom and Stephenson share the same belief that good design can change lives, and beautiful, well-made objects should be accessible to everyone. This mutual ideology led Stephenson to introduce Risom to Benchmark, a British company that specializes in hand-built furniture. It was Benchmarks attention to detail and quality that led Risom to sign off on the project knowing that Benchmark would be able to produce furniture to his exacting standards. Rocket and Benchmark have jointly secured the European rights to re-issue Risom’s 1950s and 1960s furniture designs in all their beautiful glory.

Born in Copenhagen in 1916, Risom was the son of award-winning architect Sven Risom. Jens grew up surrounded by good design and it effected his sensibility and stylistic approach to design. Risom attended the School for Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, and after graduating he trained under designer Kaare Klint. Klint is best known as the founder of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. After two years with Klint, Risom decided to move to the United States where he felt he would have a better chance of making a name for himself as a designer. This is why Risomtends to describe himself as a “Danish born, American Designer”.

Risom’s name with mid-century modern design is infamous. His work for Knoll ‘s first collection in 1945 helped to catapult him forward as a master of modern furniture design. One year later he formed his own company Jens Risom Design Inc.

Risom felt it was important to maintain control over not only the design elements of the company, but also the manufacturing. The introduction of his 1955 catalogue states: “Everything is designed and manufactured by us. Having the planning, engineering, and production all under one roof is very important, we think. It guarantees uniformity and continuity of style.” Hardly the detached designer with a sketch pad, he was on the factory floor every week and supervised day-to-day production. His obsessive pursuit of perfection in both form and function delivered enormously successful products. By the time he sold the business in 1970 to the Dictaphone Corporation, it was the third largest furniture company in America.