The story behind the Butterfly Chair

January 3, 2024

The story behind the Butterfly Chair

This article highlights the fascinating history of the iconic BKF-Butterfly Chair, from its conception in Buenos Aires in 1938 by three innovative architects to its profound influence on 1950s furniture design and its enduring legacy in modern interiors.

One of the most widespread furniture objects of the 1950s is the so-called BKF-Butterfly Chair. The chair was designed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1938 by the three architects Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, who worked with Le Corbusier's studio and later formed the architectural collective Grupo Austral in Buenos Aires. The chair, developed for an apartment building, gets the name BKF from the initials of its creators "Bonet-Kurchan-Ferrari."

Although the idea was revolutionary, it had existed for a long time. The architects drew their inspiration from the Paragon Chair (more recently known as "La Tripolina"), a folding armchair designed by inventor Joseph B. Fenby (1841–1903) to be used by soldiers in the field. The patent for this armchair was filed in the United States as early as 1881.

In 1940, a photo of the BKF-Chair appeared in the US publication Retailing Daily, where it was described as a "newly invented Argentine easy-chair for siesta sitting." The image attracted the attention of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the request of the director of MoMA's Industrial Design Department, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the designers sent three chairs to New York. One was delivered to Fallingwater, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.'s home in Pennsylvania (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), and another to MoMA.

Edgar Kaufmann Jr. predicted that the BKF Chair would become extremely popular in the US, calling it one of the "best efforts of modern chair design." In the early 1940s, it was produced in the US by Artek-Pascoe, Aalto's sales organization in New York. However, production was slow due to a shortage of metal during wartime.

After the war, the US production rights were acquired by Hans Knoll, who had recognized the chair's commercial potential and added it to the Knoll product range in 1947. However, the chair's commercial success led to a surge in unauthorized copies. After losing a legal case for design infringement, Knoll ceased production in 1951, just four years after its release.

Since then, versions of the BKF-Butterfly chair have continued to be produced by manufacturers from several countries. In Sweden, the Butterfly Chair significantly impacted the 1950s after the architect and early influencer Lena Larsson (1919-2000) launched the chair at the NK store. Larsson declared it to be the ideal chair for a modern, unconventional home, while on the contrary, it was considered by some to be inappropriate for young people as it went against the norms of upright sitting. In 2018, Knoll relaunched the BKF-Butterfly chair as an 80th-anniversary tribute.

Designer of the month
Arne Jacobsen

Arne Jacobsen is one of the most known Scandinavian architects and furniture designers of the 20th century with pieces such as the Ant, the Swan and the Egg, as well as buildings such as the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and the Saint Catherine’s College in Oxford.

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