Design Moment: Barcelona chair, c.1929
Designed by Mies van der Rohe for the Spanish king and queen, it is a luxurious, timeless classic
The Barcelona chair is regarded as the perfect marriage of craft and industry – the craft being in the hand-tooled leather work and the metal frame a direct nod to industrial materials and techniques
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair is one of the those pieces of furniture that you nearly need to be convinced it was designed as far back as 1929. It is so of the moment – as it has been for nearly 90 years.
It doesn’t look much like a throne but it was designed for the king and queen of Spain to sit on in the German pavilion at the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona. Mies (as he was more commonly known), a German, was one of the 20th-century’s most influential architects, and is often credited with the much-quoted lines “less is more” and “God is in the details”.
His inspiration for the chair is thought to be more humble than a Spanish throne – a folding chair used in the Roman era.
The Barcelona chair is regarded as the perfect marriage of craft and industry – the craft being in the hand-tooled leather work and the metal frame, a direct nod to industrial materials and techniques .
The first Barcelona chairs were made from pigskin, now it is cow leather with each chair made from a single cowhide. The deep-set leather buttons give it a feeling of luxury and make it comfortable – although in truth, this is not chair you’re likely to sit in for hours. Perhaps that’s why it became such a hit for designers looking for furniture for upscale lobbies.
The straps holding the cushions are also leather, of the same colour as the cushions. The sleek, graceful frame is made of chrome which is polished to a mirror finish. Not surprisingly it is heavily copied – poor quality leather is always the first giveaway (that and the price).
Knoll has made Barcelona chairs to the original specifications since 1953 and the designer’s name is stamped on the leg.