Mies van der Rohe, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated modern architects, born his iconic Barcelona chair to get the German pavilion of this *1929 International Exposition* in Barcelona. His designs for the pavilion caused a sensation and have not gone out of fashion. The Barcelona chair mimics the form of campaign chairs in the Roman Empire, but it’s a classic in its own right — and widely reproduced. Familiarize yourself with the details of the authentic seats before plunking down your money, because what you see is not always what you get.
No Bargain Barcelonas
If you’re looking for an original chair or an authentic licensed first, then prepare to pay handsomely for the acquisition. The distinguishing chair includes a broad armless leather bench supported by crisscrossed, curved chrome-plated stainless steel legs. The tufted leather pillows are hung in the frame using rows of leather straps. Van der Rohe mentored Florence Knoll, a design student who would finally run Knoll furniture, during her research at the Illinois Institute of Technology, in which he taught. In 1953, he delegated production rights for the seat to Knoll, in which it has been in continuous production to van der Rohe’s precise specifications. A new Barcelona seat in premium leather, almost equal to the earliest seats, cost over $7,000 in 2015. In 1997, Christie’s in London sold among the first Barcelona seats, made for a limited time in Germany, for $204,832.
A real Barcelona chair, antique or manufactured by Knoll and accredited to a limited number of vendors, is made precisely like another one. The leather upholstery is constructed in 40 panels cut from a single cowhide. The leather is hand-tufted and hand-welted using leather-covered buttons. Cushions, dyed in around a half-dozen neutral shades, are leather on top, bottom and sides. Seventeen cowhide belting leather straps encourage the pillows. The mirror-like chrome finish is hand-buffed, although Knoll currently offers the option of a brushed stainless steel frame. A stamp on one leg carries the Knoll Studio logo and a facsimile of Mies van der Rohe’s signature.
Evolved Design Hallmarks
The first Barcelona chairs were made using pigskin, which is no longer used. But the pillows are soft leather — cowhide now — with plenty of give, slightly curved to fit the seats. Knoll added the trademark and logo stamp — no distinguishing marks like that are on the first chairs. And, around 1950, improvements in technology eliminated the bolts that helped to hold the original chairs together, in favor of welded steel. Dimensions nevertheless match the standard van der Rohe design. The seat is 29.5 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and 30.25 inches high, with a seat height of 17 inches.
Unlicensed Versions Everywhere
Nice and not-so-good reproductions and cheap knock-offs of the real Barcelona seats abound. You can save a whole lot of cash in the short run, however, the sturdiness of this unlicensed chairs may not match your expectations. Cheaper, stiffer leather and cushion filling, inexpensive dyes, as well as the use of other materials for the sides and backs of the pillows detract from the aesthetic appeal and don’t wear attractively and attractively enjoy carefully assembled top-quality leather. Frames aren’t as strong and reveal nicks, scratches and wear; they could be poorly fastened from cheaper metals. The straps may be a synthetic rather than the exact same leather as the pillow. Welting and buttons may not appear. Research options from reproduction studios to realize how closely their copies duplicate the worth of a real Barcelona chair.