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Modern Design Classics, No 3. Mies van der Rohe & Lily Reich: Barcelona chair (1929)

The Barcelona chair was designed by German Bauhaus Architect Ludwig Mies van de Rohe, in collaboration with interior designer Lily Reich. The chair was originally made for the German Pavilion in the International Exposition of 1929, held in Barcelona, Spain. It was first used in Villa Tugendhat, in Brno, Czech Republic which the architect designed and built, with Reich working on the interiors. The Villa is now a World Heritage site, a fine example of modernist architecture.

The Barcelona chair is one of the most recognized pieces of furniture of the last century and an icon of the modern movement. It exudes a simple elegance that epitomizes Mies van der Rohe's famous maxim “less is more.” The Barcelona chair is a tribute to the marriage of modern design and exceptional craftsmanship.

The classic, elegant but simple styling of this chair and it’s compact proportions, make it an exceptionally versatile piece of furniture. It works equally well in a grand period building with elaborate plasterwork as in a more rustic or ethnic setting and, of course, it is commonly seen in mid-century styling. It has an uncanny ability to impose order when surrounded by a degree of clutter. It’s invaluable as a functional piece in a library or music room or as an occasional chair in a bedroom or sitting room. As a stand alone piece in an entrance hall it makes a great statement. Less is indeed more.

For the Exposition the chair was originally made in ivory coloured pigskin and the frame was initially designed to be bolted together.

In 1950 it was redesigned, with the frame being formed by a seamless piece of steel, giving it a smoother appearance, and with the seat manufactured in bovine leather. Since 1953 the chair has been manufactured by Knoll and was named the Barcelona chair. Vintage Barcelona chairs that have developed a rich patina to the leather are highly sought after.

Today the chair is available in either a chrome or stainless steel finish with leather buttoned cushions filled with foam. The most popular colours are black or white, but tan is my favourite. It also comes in shades of grey, parchment and two tones of red. It’s a compact and comfortable chair (Dimensions H: 75cms W: 75cms D: 75cms), is largely hand-crafted using fine quality materials, with a copy of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's signature stamped into each chair.

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The Barcelona chairs as designed for Villa Tugendhat, seen here in the Villa

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The Barcelona chair works well as a pair in a classic modern setting

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The Barcelona chairs impose order and symmetry on this gallery of irregular shapes

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The Barcelona chair makes its mark on an all white scheme

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Black Barcelona chairs in a contemporary sitting room

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These white Barcelona chairs look stunning against a period backdrop

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A typical mid-century scene with Barcelona chairs and stool

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Barcelona chairs work beautifully with these ethnic rugs and carvings

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A peaceful place for contemplation

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Tan leather Barcelona chairs balance the warmth of the wood furniture

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Less is definitely more, the chairs bring calm and order to this scene

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The Barcelona chair is a useful addition to this blend of modern and classic furnishings