The Butterfly Chair is a Design Classic
The Butterfly Chair has been around forever. It was a design icon in the '50's and '60's with its minimalist design and form over function aesthetic.
But it also has an illustrious provenance in the design world.
The story dates back to 1938, when it was designed by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, an Argentinian architect. Hence it was called the Hardoy chair, or sometimes the BKF (after his design partners). It was shown at a design fair in Buenos Aires in 1940 where it won two prizes.
More importantly, it was spotted by Edgar Kaufmann Jr. who bought one chair for his parent's house (as in Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater) and another for the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York) where he worked. Now that's design history.
The story continues as Knoll, the famous American furniture company, acquired the rights to make it in 1947.
What was, and is, its allure? It was cheap and it was very different. It "appeared at a moment when there was such a demand for cheap furniture, but furniture identified with a new aesthetic" according to a MoMA curator, "you've got this burst of colour and fun really coming into midcentury modern interiors."
Not only that; it was a rejection of upright chairs requiring good posture and formal dress. You can't get in and out of it with any grace and you can't sit upright when you are in it. What fun.
Made out of a steel frame and replaceable canvas, it was minimalist design at its best. So minimal that millions of cheap copies were made, with Knoll going to court to stop them in 1950. Knoll lost their claim of copyright infringement and stopped making them. But Knoll reckons that more than five million copies were produced in the 1950's.
Now everyone from Walmart to JC Penney to serious design stores sells them. One company in particular, circa50 is dedicated to their memory and continuing popularity.