10 tips before you buy Barcelona Chair

A Barcelona Chair is the finest sculptural element you can add to your home or business. The nobility of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s famous Barcelona chair carries its cultural reverence to any environment in which it is placed. In the world of interior design, the Barcelona Chair epitomizes functional modern art. In the world of architecture, the Barcelona Chair is a masterpiece made by the master of the modern architectural movement. The form and function of the design elements in the Barcelona Chair require quality material and craftsmanship to convey the genuine spirit, nobility, and cultural significance of this elite furnishing. Shoddy workmanship nullifies the Barcelona’s intellectual and cultural impact, and speaks poorly to its surroundings. Only the finest replicas that exude the purism of the Barcelona chair should be displayed.

When buying your Barcelona Chair, it is imperative that the following ten design and material elements of the Barcelona Chair are carefully examined before purchasing:

1) The smooth stainless steel frame should be flawless. Mies intentionally redesigned his 1929 design in 1950 with the advent of stainless steel to use one smooth piece of stainless steel. This is critical to maintain the integrity of the Barcelona Chair’s modular design. There should be no braces at the welding joints and no seams.

2) The stainless steel is recommended to be “austenitic chromium-nickel alloys” of series 301, 302, 303, 304, 309, 316, or 321 for Barcelona Chairs. 304 and 316 are the most common grades. For Barcelona Chairs, the 400, 500, and 600 series of stainless steel are not true to the original, partially due to the “over-durability,” however higher grades of steel are often used in replicas. The stainless steel from the 200 Series of “austenitic chromium-nickel-manganese alloys” is ideal for chroming and technical specifications of the Barcelona Chair, but it is not ideal in high humidities. The Barcelona Chair may also come in Chrome, but the stainless steel has a higher resistency to corrosion.

3) The polish of the stainless steel is one of the distinctive elements of the Barcelona chair. The stainless steel finish should only by No. 7, a reflective finish, or No. 8, a mirror finish.

4) The upholstery should be cowhide, a high quality Italian leather is a good choice. The Knoll patented version of the Barcelona Chair uses an untreated top grain bovine leather, however the porousness gives it the unfortunate ability to stain easily. (More precisely, Knoll's patented Barcelona Chair uses “1.1 mm thick, grain corrected Spinneybeck Volo leather.”) Full grain leather will age well, and top grain is the most durable on the market today. Your choice should be based on quality and the environment in which the chair is used. The untreated full grain leather may not be a practical choice in a business lobby or a home where there is much entertaining.

5) The foam density may vary per country, but should be between 30 and 36 kgs per cubic meter for the Barcelona feel. Of course, personal comfort is the most important consideration. Ideally, this should be resilient urethane foam with a Dacron polyester fiberfill. Attention should be paid to fire safety certification requirements for your area.

6) There should be 17 straps of bovine leather, approximately 7oz to 8oz in weight, dyed the same color as the upholstery. The straps should be secured to the steel frame with 34 screws, which can be aluminum or stainless steel. (The patented Knoll version has used both in the past.) The screws (and rivets if used) should be out of view. (Being able to see the screws and rivets is a poor replica.)

7) The Barcelona Chair has forty tufted panels. Hand-tufted is preferred.

8) The leather-covered buttons should be hollow metal, with a top and bottom.

9) Rope should be used for piping, but hemp and cotton are acceptable. Plastic piping does not bespeak high quality.

10) The cushions should not be oversized or overlapping the frame. After all, Mies is the father of the cliché “less is more.” The cushion should meld seamlessly with the curve of the frame. A true Barcelona Style Chair will not have seams on the outside corners.

Buying a Barcelona Chair for your home or business is certainly no easy task. Evaluating your Barcelona Chair using these ten design and material elements as guidelines will help ensure that your Barcelona Chair purchase will be of the highest quality, and truest to the forms of modern design that Mies and Lilly inspired decades ago.


This article was published on Tuesday 04 November, 2008.
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