The ICON | Butterfly Chair

  • As with species of butterflies that come with endless names, the iconic ‘Butterfly chair’ is also known as the Hardoy chair or the BKF chair, named after its creators, Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy.

    The three architects were working in Le Corbusier’s studio in Buenos Aires in the late 1930s, searching for a suitable chair for an apartment. Constructed in two bent tubular steel rods that were welded together, with a leather sling hooked to the frame, there’s an uncanny resemblance to Joseph Beverly Fenby’s ‘Tripolina Chair’, produced in the early 1880s. However, popular during wartime, Joseph’s chair was made of a foldable timber frame, ideal for soldiers who needed to move around.

    The three architects showcased the Butterfly chair, named for its wing-like form, in 1940 at the Third Salon de Artistas Decoradores, a furniture exhibition in Buenos Aires. It could have remained just an exhibit had industrial designer Edgar Kaufmann Junior not been visiting. He spotted the Butterfly Chair and purchased two. One went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the other found a home at his parent’s weekender, Falling Water, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

    The Butterfly chair was first produced by the firm Artek-Pascoe until Knoll took over production in 1948. Initially produced with a leather sling or cover, the chair is now under the helm of Swedish company Cuero Design – with covers in everything from fine Italian leather, hemp canvas and even Icelandic sheepskin. However, it’s like sitting rather than lying in a hammock, irrespective of the seat cover material.

    There are two Butterfly chairs on the northern terrace of the Hover House, designed by Bower Architecture and located at Mt Martha on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Positioned on a ‘floating’ concrete plinth, these well-loved chairs, with their black canvas covers, have slightly faded with the direct light. “They’re such a classic, just beautifully designed,” Bower Architecture director Chema Bould says. “This chair is like a functional sculpture. It’s also relaxed and playful,” Chema adds.

    When the Butterfly chair was designed in the late 1930s, the notion of ‘living in a machine’ was popular. Le Corbusier’s streamlined modernist architecture was taking hold throughout Europe, with pioneers of modernism in Australia, such as architect Harry Seidler, also embracing the Butterfly chair. Featured on the terrace of his Rose Seidler House (completed in 1950) and photographed on the front cover of Home Beautiful a year later, this chair became a favourite with homemakers during the 1950s and well into the ‘60s as the perfect patio chair. For the Rose Seidler House, the magazine cover featured three Butterfly Chairs, two in yellow canvas and the other in brown. These colours were also picked up in the dramatic painted wall mural of the patio.

    Unlike many other chairs produced in the late 1930s that are angular and fairly upright, the Butterfly chair requires the user to recline, relax and contemplate the world going by. And while the chair took a ‘back seat’ during the 1980s, it’s become popular in recent times as both an indoor and outdoor chair. Its light frame makes it easy to move from a terrace to a living or sunroom.

    And its playful form is perfect when placed against modernist architectural lines found in today’s homes. Whether it’s referred to as the Butterfly chair, the Safari chair, the Sling chair, The Wing chair, the Hardoy chair or the B.K.F. chair, it beautifully bridges comfort with clever design.

    The Cuero Design Butterfly chair in the Hover House by Bower Architecture | Photography by Shannon McGrath

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