The ICON | Barcelona Chair

  • WORDS Stephen Crafti
  • est living knoll barcelona chair 01 750x540

    As part of our ICON series, we’re uncovering the story behind the Barcelona Chair designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich in 1929.

    Many have described the Barcelona Chair as ‘opulent but modern’. With its sumptuous buttoned-back backrest and seating, conceived in the same proportions, this iconic chair is often associated with its designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Designed for the German pavilion at the International Exposition 1929 in Barcelona, its co-designer, architect Lilly Reich, is often left out of the credits. So, if you only take away one fact from this story, it’s an important one to acknowledge!

    Those attending the German pavilion would have noticed Mies’ distinctive modernist form, conceived as a series of limestone blade walls and floor. The characteristic flat roof appeared to ‘float’, giving the structure a sense of weightlessness. Likewise, the Barcelona Chair has a similar lightness, simply supported by curvaceous S-shaped chrome steel legs. Some attribute the chair’s design to a Roman-style magistrate’s stool, while others liken the chairs (two were placed in the exhibition) to a contemporary take on the Spanish throne, conceived for the king and queen.

    Initially produced by Bamberg Metal Werkstatten and later by Knoll, the Barcelona Chair has become an important symbol of modernity and is synonymous with the Bauhaus movement from the 1920s. Mies van der Rohe was the last director of the German school in Dessau before it was dismantled in the early 1930s when the Nazis came to power.

    est living icon barcelona chair

    Photography courtesy of Dedece

    est living icon barcelona chair 1

    New Canaan House | Photography by Mark Seelen

    So why has this chair become so engrained in our design psyche? Is it Mies’ reductionist approach of ‘less is more’ that was also achieved through his architecture? Or is it that he was able to combine comfort and modernity with such ease, making it a perfect chair to complement a lounge in one’s living room?

    As mentioned by Tom Wolfe in his book on modernist architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, speaking on the aspirations of post-war America, “When you saw that holy object on a sisal rug, you knew you were in a household where a fledgling architect and his young wife had sacrificed everything to bring the symbol of the godly mission into their home”. Today, the Barcelona Chair has certainly held its value, both in terms of its design, but also its price tag, available from Dedece for just over $11,000.

    You won’t find a sisal rug in architect Robert Simeoni’s home, but you will find a Barcelona chair. Simeoni’s original tan-coloured Barcelona Chair was purchased on the secondary market four years ago, with the appropriate papers to support it being manufactured in Germany in the 1950s. “It was the softness of the colour,” Robert Simeoni says, who placed the chair in an alcove on the first-floor landing of his Italianate terrace in inner-city Melbourne. “It’s the perfect spot as a reading chair,” he says, who enjoys it being aligned to a window overlooking a laneway.

    Robert Simeoni, as with many architects, has always admired the Barcelona Chair, apart from its clean lines and comfort. “I see this chair as following the lineage of significant chairs, whether they be from the Italian Renaissance or from an earlier Egyptian time. Even when I’m not reading in it, I still receive the same pleasure from simply walking past,” he adds.

    est living knoll barcelona chair 01

    Photography courtesy of Dedece

    est living knoll barcelona chair 02
    est icon barcelona chair

    Photography courtesy of Dedece

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