Barcelona chair made in England
Posted on 21st March 2013 by Mark
It was three years ago when I was struck by the idea of recreating one of the very early Barcelona chairs. My inspiration came from seeing a photograph of an early chair which had sold at auction in Amsterdam for £56,000 in 1989!. I have placed the photograph below. The chair looks incredible.
Even though it was my love for the Barcelona chair which gave me the idea for setting up Iconic Interiors I have always thought the modern chairs look too clean and perfect. Don't misunderstand me, the chair is a wonderful design. Truly worth its iconic status. How can a chair designed in 1929 look as modern now as it ever has done? Simple, it is a beautiful design transcending time and changing trends.
I recently visited the recreated Mies Van Der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona. Here I was again impressed by the Barcelona chair and how they had aged so gracefully. I love the way the cushions sink into the frame. How the straps stretch over time. The cushion is sat on the frame and it eventually nestles into the curves. Just beautiful.
Because of my fascination with these chairs I couldn't help studying how the chairs were constructed. I noticed these old chairs were very robust and every aspect of their construction was substantial. I noticed how the straps were very thick and quite coarse. I liked this. This is what I imagine the very early Barcelona chairs must have looked like. I can picture Mies Van Der Rohe struggling with thick leather straps, wrapping them around the steel frame and riveting them in place. I noticed on the underneath of these Pavilion chairs the straps were raw leather - buffed on the upper side and left raw on the unseen underside.
When I returned home I was keen to experiment with thick, raw leather straps. I contacted a number of tanneries and found a suitable one which specialised in supplying horse saddles. I visited their premises and explained I was interested in having straps cut to size for the Barcelona chair. They showed me around the tannery and demonstrated the many options available to me. It was quite an education. We found a particular leather which had been buffed on one side with the underside left raw. The straps were a lovely mottled reddy brown. I instantly thought how well they would blend with the many brown Italian and English leathers we supply.
Armed with a riveter, a leather hole punch and a thousand or so rivets I set about strapping up a Barcelona frame. I had a Barcelona chair frame stripped down, removing the existing straps and drilled out the rivet holes to remove any stubborn rivets. At first I wasn't too sure of the best length for the straps. Because my aim is to produce a chair which looks aged I purposely kept the seat straps on the slack side. I noticed on the auctioned chair and the Barcelona chairs in the Pavilion how stretched these straps had become. This stretching allowed the cushions to mould into the curved steel frame.
Working with these leather straps is a pleasure. The buffed side of the leather has a great deal of character. Once I'd completed strapping the chair I noticed each strap has its own characteristics. They each capture the light differently. I also very much like the smell of the leather straps - it's quite strong as you can imagine.
I lifted the fully strapped Barcelona chair frame off the work bench and placed it on the floor. I stood back and marvelled at its appearance. This is how I imagined the early Barcelona chairs to have looked. A bit more edgy! The contrast between the buffed leather and the raw underside couldn't be greater.
After a few minutes of enjoying my creation I decided to give the straps a good work out. I placed a set of old oak leather cushions (fantastic Italian aniline leather we use throughout our range) onto the chair and sat myself down. It certainly feels good. I then start shuffling about in the chair. I stood up and repeatedly fell back into the seat. I fell into the seat in increasing force. How much abuse can the straps take I wonder. I couldn't imagine the straps ever snapping in the middle, my main concern was evidence of splitting around the rivet. After a few more heavy drops I lifted up the chair to have a close look at the row of rivets. Phew, not one showed any signs of splitting.
Okay, let's up the ante. I removed the cushions and peered down and the buffed straps which support the seat cushion. My size eleven boots would fit over four of these straps. I'm about 14 stone. Will they be able to take my weight I thought. Will they stretch? Will I fall off and hurt myself? All these thoughts were going around my head. I balanced on the four straps and slowly allowed them to take all of my weight. I stepped down and back on a few times. I had a close look at the straps and was happy to report there was very little evidence of stretching or splitting. Fantastic.
Over the coming days I had the chair sat gracing the corner of my office. Throughout the day I'd fall into the chair to give the straps a good work out. After a few weeks of this I concluded the straps were fit for purpose. These straps are so strong I cannot imagine them ever failing. Maybe over the years they would stretch. I'd prefer it if they did. The closer they resemble the chairs in the auction photograph above or the chairs in Mies' Barcelona Pavilion the better. That's the point after all.
I am keen to offer the chair through the site. I've decided to call it the Bamberg Metallwerksatten Barcelona chair, or the Bamberg for short. Initially the chair will be available in our range of exciting brown leathers. Because the straps are brown they'll blend well with our old oak, old chestnut and antique Italian aniline leathers. Later in the year we'll be able to offer the chair in black and many other colours. The retail price is £1212 incl. Vat plus £42 delivery. Buying options found on the Bamberg Barcelona Chair page. Lead time is currently two weeks. Any enquiries please contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01625 476 193. Look forward to hearing from you.