The Butterfly Chair

Adele Shotton-Pugh | Posted

The first butterfly chair was made by one Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in 1939. Argentinean by birth, the innovative young designer received his degree in architecture from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1939. He had lived the previous year in Paris, gaining essential experience working under le Corbusier- widely regarded as the most important figure in 20th century architecture- in the development of the "Plan Director para Buenos Aires." On his return to Buenos Aires he was involved in the creation of architecture firms CIAM Argentina and Grupo Austral, but it is his butterfly or BKF chair that he is best known.

During the 50s and the 60s the butterfly chairs gained an iconic status, due mainly to its somewhat unenviable image of minimalism and form over practical functionality. Many people during these years regarded the butterfly chair as a glimpse of the future of furniture design, featuring a folding frame and a large cloth sling hung from the frames highest points, making it perfect portable seating for the increasingly nomadic lives people were living.

The cloth seat made the chair eternally adaptable as literally any fabric could be, and was used. From plain white fabric to fuchsia pink or art nouvaeu, to cowhide, leather or PVC- anything was possible and no doubt this helped to further increase the popularity of the chair as there was a fabric to suit any home. However, the chair was not without its detractors. There were and still are many people who regarded the use of these butterfly chairs as being unhealthy for the human spine. This is due mainly to the effect the chair construction has on the body, offering little support and promoting a curvature of the spine. But blinded by the flashing lights of hyperbole, most were willing to overlook slight discomfort in order to own a bona fide time capsule.

Though a massive success and an iconic piece of design, the butterfly was certainly not perfect and there have been many attempts by ambitious designers seeking make there mark, to improve on the original design. The best attempt to date was designed by Karim Rashid and is distributed by Magis. Unlike the other butterfly chairs this particular line of chairs has a chromed steel frame and an ABS plastic seat and backrest.

Though they are quite far removed from the original model, the new Magis range retains that playful, colourful, adaptability that made its predecessor so well loved. The colours are reminiscent of Warhol & Lichtenstein Prints, invoking the spirit of sixties Pop Art and the simple tongue like shape gives a chunky, robust look, while the chair retains eminent practicality as it is stackable and lightweight meaning it is as portable as ever. The gorgeously glossy finish gives the colours candy shop vibrancy and knife edge sharpness- grass greens, fuchsia pinks, cherry reds and retro oranges all look amazing.

The front and reverse being finished in two opposing colours is also a nice touch. Strangely however, it is the more grown up and subtle finish which best indicates the playful approach the designers have taken- the wonderfully titled “Fully White & Fully Anthracite Grey” version of the chair is actually just white on both sides! Set against the dark and low key background of black or dark or even light blue curtains or wallpaper, these chairs positively glow. A fantastic addition to any dining room.


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