Design, Decoded: The Butterfly Chair

Even if you’re not familiar with the term ‘butterfly chair,’ you’ve seen it before.  This icon of mid-century design can be found everywhere these days, from Urban Outfitters to CB2.  But where did it come from? Who designed it? And why is it still so popular?

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B.K.F. Chair. Painted wrought-iron rod and leather. Designed by Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy. Manufactured by Artek-Pascoe, Inc., New York. 1938. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Also known as the Hardoy Chair, Safari Chair, Sling Chair, or Wing Chair, the original piece was designed by three Argentinean architects in the late 1930s: Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, Antonio Bonet, and Juan Kurchan.  Inspired by nineteenth-century British campaign chairs (military furniture that collapsed to facilitate mobility), they were lightweight and inexpensive.  They quickly became popular in the United States–especially in California–and in the late 1940s production rights were acquired by Knoll.

However, unauthorized copies of the butterfly chair were made almost instantly, and are still widely manufactured today.  The inexpensive materials and relaxed posture of the butterfly chair fit with the new informal entertaining that took over American homes after World War II, and the gently rounded lines of the chair’s frame blended in with contemporary biomorphic design.

Below are some of my favorite interpretations of the butterfly chair (referred to by MOMA as the B.K.F. chair).  I’ve yet to own one, but hope to someday!

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Locust Mari Canvas Butterfly Chair Cover, Urban Outfitters, $59

1938 Bergama Butterfly Chair

1938 Bergama Butterfly Chair, CB2, $249

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Butterfly Chair from Lifestyle By Cara, Etsy, $425

Which one is your favorite? Do you have a butterfly chair in your home?

Sources:

Oscar Fitzgerald, Four Centuries of American Furniture (Radnor, PA: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 1995).

“B.K.F. Chair,” Museum of Modern Art Online <http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=4393>.

Comments (8 )
  • Gail Ramsey
    | 9 September 2014

    We don’t have a Butterfly chair, but I have seen them. I like your favorites!

  • Jori
    | 17 December 2014

    I had two butterfly chairs once upon a time and loved them muchly. White canvas I thought they were so sophisticated! Comfortable too and a very airy look for all the lounging one can do while reading talking, drawing. Easy to change position. Take up allot of square footage though in my bungalow not so practical. Love em though thanks for the article!

    • annabode
      | 19 December 2014

      Any time! I have yet to own one, but it’s on my list of must-haves. They seem like such great chairs for curling up with a book 🙂

  • Deb
    | 17 January 2015

    I had a butterfly chair back in college in the 80s and kept it through maybe mid-90s. It disappeared after I met my husband. Hmmmm. I LOVED it! So comfortable. It was basic black when I was in a black and white design phase.

    • annabode
      | 17 January 2015

      Jealous! I’m thinking about one for our next house–I love their laid-back vibe they give off 🙂

  • Judy
    | 26 January 2017

    We have one but the frame is all that’s left. The covering is totally worn out. Where can we purchase just the fabric part of the chair? Judy

  • Judy
    | 26 January 2017

    WE HAVE THE FRAME OF A BUTTERFLY CHAIR BUT THE FABRIC PART IS TOTALLY WORN OUT. CAN WE PURCHASE JUST THAT PART OF THE CHAIR?

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