From May 20th 1929 through January 15th, 1930, designers and innovators from around the globe gathered in Barcelona for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.
Among the iconic designs to emerge from that fair was the famous Barcelona chair. The chair became a classic, and today, is still manufactured by Knoll Inc., the same company which has been crafting them since 1953.
If you have ever wanted to own a Barcelona chair of your own, this guide will get you started with what you need to know about this beautiful furnishing. We’ll discuss its history, its design, its price range, and what to look for in a high-quality Barcelona chair.
Who Designed the Barcelona Chair?
Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and modernist designer Lilly Reich collaborated to design the Barcelona chair as part of the German Pavilion, also sometimes known as the Barcelona Pavilion.
The pavilion itself was minimalist in nature, putting an emphasis on simple planes and a flow of open space. The walls were constructed out of startling minerals like red onyx, and functioned as the only decoration the structure required. The Barcelona chair, which also placed an emphasis on simple grandeur, was an ideal complement to the pavilion.
What Makes the Barcelona Chair So Unique?
There are a couple of intriguing things to discuss regarding the design of the Barcelona chair. The first is its possible inspiration. The second is how both that inspiration and the finished product serve as an unusual contrast with other designs within the same architectural style.
The chair’s design seems to hearken to that of the curule seat. High-ranking ancient Romans used to sit on curule chairs. So the sight of a curule seat or a similar design immediately evokes images of authority and wealth.
For this reason, curule seats remained popular long after the glory of the Roman empire faded. Indeed, a particularly famous chair called the “Throne of Dagobert” underwent repairs so that Napoleon could use it for his coronation.
This is how the Barcelona chair evokes a sense of sumptuous elegance and high-class refinement. Why is this unusual? Because the chair is classified as falling into the Bauhaus German design style. Indeed, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe served as the director for one of the Bauhaus art schools.
Bauhaus style was focused on pragmatic, economical design, and attempted to bring together artistry with mass production. The Barcelona chair, on the other hand, is largely made by hand. Through its craftsmanship, its intended use by King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia at the Barcelona International Exposition, and its curule-inspired design, it retains an aristocratic quality.
Basic Features, Materials and Appearance
The Barcelona modern chair design actually has evolved since its original appearance in the exposition. Originally, the frame consisted of multiple pieces which were connected with bolts. But from 1950 onward, a single piece of stainless steel was used.
The cushions used to be upholstered with pigskin. Today, bovine leather is used in lieu of this material. And whereas the original upholstery was ivory, you can now find the Barcelona chair in many different colors.
The height, width, and depth of the chair are all approximately 75 centimeters (30 inches). The chair sits low to the floor. Because the steel frame has a slender design, the cushions almost appear to have a “floating,” weightless effect.
The price range for a Barcelona chair varies significantly, depending on the manufacturer and the quality of construction.
At the lower end, you’ll pay at least a couple hundred dollars for most Barcelona chair replicas.
At the upper end, you have the option of purchasing a Barcelona chair from Knoll. As mentioned before, Knoll has been making these since 1953. So they have made many of the vintage Barcelona chairs you may have seen. A Barcelona chair from Knoll can cost more than $6,000, but it is the most authentic option out there.
What To Look For in a Barcelona Chair Reproductions
If you are going to be purchasing a Barcelona chair, whether from Knoll or from another manufacturer, what should you look for to ensure you are getting an accurately and beautifully crafted piece?
Handcrafted. This is not a chair which was built for mass production. It was designed to be handcrafted, and the highest quality Barcelona chairs will always be crafted at least in large part by real artisans. The version that Knoll makes consists of 40 individual panels. Both these and the frame include work by hand.
High-quality materials. The stainless steel should shine like a mirror (which Knoll ensures by employing artisans to do it by hand). The leather used for the top, bottom, front and back should all be of the same high quality.
Correct dimensions. Particularly among cheap Barcelona chair replicas, you’ll find quite a few chairs which are smaller than the original.
The correct overall design. Take time to study the original Barcelona chair. Then take a look at some of the less expensive Barcelona chair reproductions. You’ll notice quite a few of them aren’t so much reproductions as entirely different chairs that happen to share some general qualities in common with the Barcelona chair. Both the cushions and legs may be entirely different.
What Barcelona chairs do we recommend based on the criteria above?
If you can afford to purchase a Knoll Barcelona chair, that should be your number one choice. It is unparalleled in terms of authenticity, since, as you now know, Knoll has been manufacturing these beautiful chairs for decades.
If you order a Knoll chair, you will be getting a custom-made item with hand-welted, hand-tufted individual panels. For the upholstery, you can choose from Volo, Acqua or Sabrina leather in a variety of colors.
By default, the frame is polished chrome, but you can upgrade to premium 304 bar stock stainless steel if you order over the phone. You also can request Spinneybeck® leather.
Every Knoll Barcelona chair is made to order. Within a couple of weeks, your chair will be handcrafted to your specifications.
This is the most authentic Barcelona chair on the market. While it is a “replica” in that it is obviously not the original, it is the genuine article in that you are purchasing it straight from Knoll itself.
Every detail is intact, even down to the Knoll Studio logo and the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe signature stamps on the leg of the chair.
The only drawback of the Knoll Barcelona chair is its price. Because this is the most authentic, highest-quality handcrafted version of the chair, it also carries the highest price tag.
If you cannot swing the full price of a Knoll Barcelona chair, but you want something which matches the original specifications of the authentic furnishing as closely as possible, consider the Modern Classics Exhibition Chair.
High-quality materials are used for this chair, even though it is not a full-price Knoll chair. The 304 premium-grade stainless steel frame is not chrome-plated, and the upholstery is made of “top grain Italian leathers.” Alternately, if you prefer, you can send in a material of your own for the upholstery.
You can upgrade if you want to a frame which includes powdercoating in a color of your choice.
These chairs are not mass-produced. They are custom-made with more than 40 hours of labor.
There is no sales tax, and shipping is free.
While this is among the best Barcelona chair reproductions, the price tag may still be pretty steep for some buyers, particularly given that it is not authentic. If you are already spending more than $1,000, you might feel more comfortable just shelling out more for the Knoll chair.
On Amazon, you’ll find quite a few Barcelona chair replicas as well as an assortment of chairs “inspired” by the Barcelona chair. Many of them barely can be considered replicas at all, as they vary drastically in appearance from the original.
The Barcelona chair replicas by eMod are not as cheap as some of the other options, but they are far closer to the original than any of the less expensive products which we encountered.
The cost for these Barcelona chair replicas is very reasonable, and should be within budget for many shoppers who cannot afford the Modern Classics or Knoll versions of the chair.
Surprisingly, the frame is actual hand-polished stainless steel. The upholstery is made from imported premium Italian Aniline leather, and the cushions have been crafted by hand.
You cannot customize this chair to the same extent you can one which you get from Knoll or Modern Classics. You can choose a color, but aside from that, the ordering process is really basic.
There does not appear to be any information available on the dimensions of the chair. You would need to ask the seller or another customer what the dimensions are and whether they are accurate.