The Butterfly Chair, also known as the BKF chair is a timeless iconic design. These days thanks to its popularity, the Butterfly Chair can be easily found in many places. However, no one really talks about the story behind the Butterfly Chair. Who designed it? Where did it come from? And why is it so popular? In this blog post we will explore the unique history of the Butterfly Chair design.
Who invented the Butterfly Chair? The simplest answer is that the Butterfly Chair was designed in Argentina in 1938 by three architects, Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy. They were all partners in the Austral Group, a cooperation of leading architects in Argentina. The BKF chair getting its name from the combined surnames of the three architects was originally designed for an apartment building the Austral Group designed in Bueno Aires. However it is recognised that the chair took its inspiration from a portable British military chair called 'La Tripolina' which features a foldable wooden structure, metal joints and a canvas seat or animal hide. La Tripolina was invented by English engineer Joseph B. Fenby, and he patented the design in the United State in 1881. Chairs in this style can also still be purchased today from multiple manufacturers. Below is a fantastic photo of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison using La Tripolina chairs during one of their famous camping trips. In this photo from 1921, they have invited the US president at the time, Warren Harding, as well as the well known entrepreneur Harvey Firestone.
What is the first original butterfly chair?
Surprisingly, only three prototype BKF chairs were produced by the three architects. They introduced the BKF chair to the public in 1940 at the Salon de Artist's Decorators exhibition in Argentina and the chair caught the attention of Edgar Kaufmann who was a curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Edgar brought two chairs to the USA. The first one was exhibited in the museum and the second went to his house (the architectural masterpiece Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright). While no one knows where the third one went, Kaufmann accurately predicted that this economical and lightweight BKF chair would become extremely popular in the USA and it was. The BKF chair was then produced by manufacturer Artek-Pascoe from 1941 to 1948. After that, In 1947, Hans Knoll acquired the US production rights and unsuccessfully pursued legal action against any unauthorised copies. Knoll then ceased production due to the increasing numbers of unlicensed production in 1951. After Knoll lost their copyright, The butterfly chair was freely produced by many manufacturers from numerous countries.
How did the chair become popular?
With its distinctive sculptural lines, versatility and affordability. The chair adds a modern edge to any interior or exterior setting it inhabits. Now as part of the public domain with multiple manufacturers the chair was able to infiltrate every part of society. Butterfly chairs were just as likely to be seen in dorm rooms as they were to be seen in high end hotels. Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use the chair featured a do it all design. Once the popularity of the chair gathered pace it became a pop culture icon featuring on media from advertisements to album covers. It was able to capture the public spotlight in a way very few designs could and as a result of this it became a pop culture classic.
Is there an original Butterfly Chair produced today?
We would say there wasn't a replacement for the original BKF chair, however thanks to the versatility and popularity of the chair, many manufacturers produce the Butterfly Chair with various materials and updated dimensions based on the original dimensions of the BKF chair. So there is no original. The leading chairs will be the ones with the most appropriate proportions, produced using the finest materials.
What is special about the Cuero version of the Butterfly Chair?
Since the BKF chair first went into production, the average person's height has increased worldwide. Many would now find the original BKF Chair dimensions distinctly uncomfortable. So as people have grown taller during the 20th Century, the butterfly chair needed to be adapted to suit. Lars Kjerstadius, the founder of the Swedish company 'Cuero' has given a new life to the chair by making a version of the product which is 30% larger than the original design. He named his version the Mariposa chair, meaning 'Butterfly' in Spanish.
Cuero produce two versions of the chair in leather: The Mariposa Butterfly Leather Chair and the Mariposa Butterfly Sheepskin Chair. Another two designs are produced with a fabric seat: The Mariposa Butterfly Canvas Chair and the Sunshine Mariposa Butterfly Chair. All versions embrace a clear focus on quality and sustainability and are produced in a family run facility deep in a Swedish Forest. The steel used for the chair structure is forged and formed in Sweden itself. Thick, durable leather is sourced from Tuscany in Italy, a region renowned for producing exceptional quality leathers. Here the leather is still made the most traditional way using all natural tannins, with each step of the process overseen by individual artisans. The beautiful aroma and quality difference over mass produced leather using chrome or 'heavy metal' chemical tannins is striking. Adorning the leather for the sheepskin version are quality hides from Iceland. Each hide is again processed using only natural ingredients and using bi-product skins from existing food industry consumption. Cared for properly a leather or sheepskin based chair can last beyond a lifetime, representing a highly environmentally conscious choice. Both fabric options are made from 100% cotton, at the end of their life they can biodegrade and be replaced with a new cover onto an existing steel frame.