Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition

Designed by Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan & Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, 1938

For its 80th anniversary Knoll pays tribute to design originality, creating a special edition of the Butterfly chair. The year 1938 was a very fertile one for design history: among many developments, the Knoll company was founded, and a very special chair was designed, which Hans Knoll decided to include in the firm’s catalogue from 1947 to 1951, meeting with remarkable success.

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Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition
  • Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition
  • Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition
  • Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition
  • Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition

Details

FEATURES

Thanks to the technological prowess and fine craftsmanship of Knoll – indispensable allies to achieve products of the highest quality – today’s Butterfly has sinuous, dynamic lines, which are also made possible by the quality of the materials involved: the structure is in chromium-plated or coated steel, in white or black, while the seat is made with thermoformed felt. This element, in particular, represents the true innovation of the project, because thanks to its workmanship it becomes a self-supporting structure with the dual role of seat and covering. Furthermore, the laser shaping of the fabric, without added stitching, permits the direct interlock of the seat and the steel framework, ensuring comfort and elegance.

 

CONSTRUCTION

Chrome, Black and white base.

 

FINISHES

Felt is available in different colours.

Dimensions

Butterfly Chair Anniversary Edition

Chair dimensions are 82cm W x 76cm D x 32/90cm H


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Product Story image

A tribute to the original design of Knoll: the 80th anniversary edition of the Butterfly chair.

The year 1938 was a prolific one in the history of design, marked among many other things, by the founding of Knoll and the creation of a special chair. This chair was later chosen by Hans Knoll to feature in the company’s catalogue from 1947 to 1951, where it garnered immense success. Thanks in part to Knoll’s foresight, the piece went on to become a true icon in the history of design and is best known as the Butterfly.

The Butterfly project spans the eras as only an evergreen can. From its inception, its story has been one of transformation, adaptability and evolution - characteristics intrinsic to our time. Precisely for this reason, it symbolises the everlasting modernity of which Knoll has been a spokesman for about for 80 years.

Yet to fully understand its importance, we need to take a step backwards.

It was 1937 when three young Spanish-speaking architects met in Paris: the first, Antonio Bonet, hailed from Barcelona, while the other two, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, were from Buenos Aires. They were bright and talented, attributes that granted them access to the then most sought-after address in the world of architecture: number 5, Rue de Sévres: the studio of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, already better known as Le Corbusier. The three architects spent a year studying under the Master, absorbing the very best elements of his work. When they arrived, Corbu had already published his trilogy on Architecture, Decorative Art and Urbanism, had been rejected and then restored to glory with his Esprit Nouveau and had worked with Charlotte Perriand for over ten years to create furnishings that would become significant milestones in the history of design. It is certain that, either before or during their apprenticeship, the three architects would have read L’Art Décoratifs d’Aujourd’hui, in which Le Corbusier demolished the idea of decorative art in favour of modern design. In his book, the architect discusses new design, from furniture and technical objects to mass-produced industrial products and solutions conceived in military contexts that could be transferred to the domestic setting. It is no surprise that, on their return to Argentina, the three young hopefuls decided to continue down the road the Master had shown them. They founded Grupo Austral, a design collective poised to investigate the new horizons of Argentinian architecture and urbanism (so much so that Ferrari-Hardoy would go on to work on the new urban plan of Buenos Aires with Le Corbusier himself). In this the trio were blessed with formidable intuition, redesigning a classic military piece of furniture: the “Tripolina”. A light and collapsible armchair, the chair had a wooden frame and metal joints which formed the base for a canvas or leather cover. It is thought to have been designed by Joseph B. Fenby in 1877 for the British Army, who then sold the patent in Italy and the United States. The chair was presented for the first time at the International Fair of Saint Louis in 1904 by the firm Gold Medal in Wisconsin. The Tripolina is simple and practical, conceived for military purposes and their sudden changes of location and transportation. In fact, thanks to the canvas, the design combines traditionally separate parts such as the seat and the backrest into a single element, and the chair can be folded and easily stored in a practical case with a shoulder strap.

The three architects studied its potential and redesigned it, enhancing its features to give it pride of place in the new domestic setting. They were some of the very first architects to venture into “redesign”, a practice that would later catapult countless designers to fame and generate numerous iconic pieces of furniture. They focused particularly on structure, taking inspiration from the international trend for tubular metal, which in the previous decade had characterised the furniture of the rationalist movement, the highly modern machine-manufactured style championed by the great Corbu himself.

The wooden frame with metal joints - too complex for industrialised mass-production - was replaced by two curved metal elements to create a single, seamless loop. The new version lost the flexibility of the original design but gained decidedly more interesting characteristics. The shape of the seat maintained its simplicity yet became cleaner and more defined, while the structure is linear, pure and continuous like a Möbius band. But, above all, it succeeded in condensing the advantages of two styles into one. It is versatile, light and stackable like a chair, but also comfortable and wide like an armchair. It is no surprise that the level of comfort it offers brings to mind a hammock, the traditional Latin American chair that forms a cocoon-like womb while offering the lightness and cleanliness of a simple hanging canvas.

Some of the most prominent supporters of the Butterfly include Edgar Kaufmann Junior, an architect who was introduced to the great classics from birth, being as he was the son of the businessman who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to create the legendary Fallingwater (the House on the Waterfall) and Richard Neutra to design one of his most striking Californian villas. Kaufmann Jnr's passion for the piece was such that in 1940 he ordered the armchair be included in the permanent collections of the MoMA in New York, for which he was a consultant. In 1947 Hans Knoll acquired the rights to the design and successfully produced it as Model no. 198 for four years.

The number of names by which it is known - BFK, the Argentina, the African, the Hardoy Chair or, more commonly, the Butterfly, are second only to the countless attempts to imitate it. The Chair’s design preceded by almost thirty years the radical research into non-conventional and vernacular chairs, which at the same time embodied some of the greatest classics of the modernist movement. The Butterfly invented a new way of sitting, freeing its users from social formalisms and enabling them to engage in a new form of conviviality that would later form the basis for the contemporary furniture developed from the 1950s onwards, a style championed by American design.

Today, the Butterfly is still recognised as a classic of modernity that enjoys universal success. It is a symbol of lightness and liberty yet offers an elegance that succeeds in being informal and refined at the same time.

Domitilla Dardi