Knoll Hardoy Butterfly Chairs

Bob Borson —  May 16, 2011 — 51 Comments

Today I am going to talk about the Knoll Hardoy Butterfly (BFK) chairs. I have two original butterfly chairs that came into my possession because someone else decided to throw them away.   (what?!?)    That’s right – scoreboard. 

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Knoll Hardoy Butterfly Chairs in garden

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via the MoMA site:

The B.K.F. Chair—also known as the Hardoy Chair, Butterfly Chair, Safari Chair, Sling Chair, or Wing Chair—was designed in Buenos Aires and its name credits its three designers. The first two B.F.K. chairs to come to the United States went to Fallingwater, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.’s home in Pennsylvania (designed by family friend Frank Lloyd Wright), and to MoMA. Edgar Kaufmann accurately predicted that the lightweight and inexpensive lounge chair would become hugely popular in the U.S., particularly on the West Coast.

Artek-Pascoe produced the chair from 1941 to 1948, sending royalties back to Argentina. Knoll Associates acquired U.S. production rights in the late 1940s and unsuccessfully pursued legal action against unauthorized copies, which continue to be produced to this day.

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Knoll Hardoy Butterfly chair on patio

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via Knoll Museum:

Grupo Austral introduced their new chair of leather and enameled steel at the 3rd Salon de Artistas Decoradoresinterior design exhibition in Buenos Aires in 1940. On the occasion of the Salon, the group sent a note to the organizers indicating that the chair was the sole work of Ferrari-Hardoy. Hence it is most commonly referenced in design circles as the Hardoy chair, but it is also known as the Butterfly chair and the BKR chair (the initials of the designers; Antonio Bonet, Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy and Juan Kurchan).

The chair received two design prizes at its introduction. In 1941 the chair was awarded the Acquisition Prize by the Museum of Modern Art, after Edgar Kaufmann Jr. bought the chair to MoMA’s attention.

Knoll acquired US production rights of the Hardoy chair in 1947, brining international notice and commercial success to the design. A rash of inferior copies prompted legal action by Knoll in 1950. After losing their claim of copyright infringement, Knoll dropped the chair from its line in 1951. More than five million copies of the chair were estimated to have been produced by numerous manufacturers during the 1950s alone.

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So they way I came into possession of my chairs ….  I was driving home from work and was about 9 houses away from turning into my driveway when I saw them. Once I got over the shame of dumpster diving in my neighbors trash (in roughly 4.2 seconds) I threw those babies into the back of my car and skeedattled!

That was 4 years ago and they have been sitting in the same dilapidated state ever since – but not anymore, this weekend I decided to get them fixed up for proper use.

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drill and polishing bit

Given the amount of rust that was on these frames, my arms would have fallen off trying to scrape it off. Luckily, I am clever enough to know that I can just go buy a wire brush bit for my drill, which is exactly what I did. It still took almost an hour of drill brushing per chair to remove all the rust and crud. Once I was done with the wire brush, I went to work using #0000 steel wool to finish up the job – those frames looked fresh off the factory floor when I was finished.

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Hardoy Butterfly chair frame

However, I was still not done – they needed to be painted or the rust would have eventually come back. I used one can of black enamel spray paint – about 4 coats worth per chair. Those babies were so perfectly black that if they went to night school, the teacher would have marked them absent!

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Hardoy butterfly chairs in the my lawn

The only thing remaining to deal with are the covers. The ones I have suck and look dingy – they are white canvas and despite my hardcore home brew of OxyClean, Clorox bleach, two wash cycles, etc. they are still looking all of their age … which simply won’t do. No, I have to get new slings for these babies and I know just the place – Circa50.  The fine folks at Circa50 have been manufacturing butterfly chairs and covers since 1997 and as far as I am concerned, they are the only place to go get what I need. You can choose from 12 different canvas colors but what really separates them from other manufacturers is the indoor/outdoor vinyl weave cover they make. (Of course, I will be ordering my two covers in black).

I am really, really happy I got this project (other than ordering my covers) done this weekend. My butterfly chairs have been sitting neglected in the carport for the last several years. Once they are finished, they will be able to take their place of prominence in the back yard.

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  • Edward

    Wow feel like I’m jumping on an old post but seems to have been recently revived…I have a pair of older very well made frames (found at a little thrift shop in Stuart FL) for sale in my Etsy shop, no idea who actual manufacturer was but I’m pretty certain they’re of the original vintage (50’s). Bob thanks for your curbside find and refinishing story…tempted to refinish, grab some new slings and keep ‘em!

  • aednyc

    My grandmother had butterfly chairs on her front porch back in the 1950s. She was raising a family on her own so there wasn’t much money at hand so I can’t imagine her spending a lot on those chairs. They must have been very inexpensive back then. Wish I had them now!

  • Liane

    I’ve been dragging such a frame picked from someone’s garbage at the curb…since 1986. I knew what it was the minute I spotted it. This year!!! I bought a whole skin in a nice bright orange colour and plan to make a nice new seat for it. I’ve had the pattern for years and now I have the time. Your site was full of very helpful information. Thanks!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Liane, glad you liked the site and feel free to come back and post a picture of your orange cover once you’ve got it completed!

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  • hellosteph

    Do you keep yours outdoors? if so how do you suggest protecting the bottom from scraping against rough concrete surfaces?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I do keep it outdoors and I don’t worry about the bottoms scraping on the concrete.

  • copper

    how wonderful to find original butterfly chairs in a dumpster! I am in New Zealand and would love to have such luck. there are probably lots sitting neglected in peoples garages here, but cant find them! please advise what the measurements are for the original frames. I know they are lower and wider than most of the reproductions, but I think I know a company who could make them for me if I had the right dimensions. (my architect husband will know if they don’t “look right”.) thankyou in anticipation…
    Copper

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t have the dimensions and technically, there are three different sizes available. You’d be better off doing a search on replacement covers to get the dimension range – over time the frames deflect slightly so there isn’t a “right” size.

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  • Mark Twang

    My wife & I collect MCM and have new (DWR) and original designer
    pieces, as well as repops. I’ve got 3 of these & had no idea that
    they were Hardoy-Knoll. Two have slight bends at the top of the back
    part of the frame; one is straight. I’ve seen both credited to
    Hardoy-Knoll. Can you lend any insight into this variation? And how do
    you tell if it’s the real deal if it’s not stamped?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Mark,

      I don’t know if there is a way to determine if you have originals or not but since these are fairly easy to come by, I’m not sure the frames have real “collector” value (at least I wouldn’t pay special $$ for them). Also, I am not aware of any purposeful variation in the original design – sorry.

  • Matthew

    We are having covers made for our butterfly chairs but the upholsterer has warned us that there will be problems if the frames aren’t straight so the chairs wobble.
    Haven’t found any advice on straightening them. Do you know of any suggestions to solve that problem?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      considering that they are basically bent metal rods, you might be able to physically bend them back into shape. If they are really bad, you can probably take them to a metal fabricator who can heat them up and bend them back into shape without distorting the original shape.

      Best of luck

  • Stephen Jenkins

    I have four original butterfly chair frames and was wondering where would I look to sell them ?

    • Jules

      Stephen, Are they still for sale?

      • steve

        Yes they are please contact me 804-787-3584 i am looking to sell them.

  • jm

    hello…i have 3 iron (painted black) butterfly frames that were bought at a store called Pego’s (mainly Danish imports) in Montreal in the ’50’s. Do you know how to identify the manufacturer? And i am ordering covers from circa50!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      JM,

      I don’t know how to tell if it doesn’t have the stamp but I’m not really all that sure it matters if you like them.

      Cheers

  • M Winkler

    Hi Bob, what do you think of the circa50 frames? Would you recommend getting one? I have been looking for Knoll Versions but either the folks selling won’t ship to Europe or the state of the frame was terrible…I’m starting to cave ;-)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I haven’t received a frame from circa50 but if they are anything like the covers (which I do have) they will be awesome.

  • An7oine

    I sugest this blog anout BKF
    http://anexosolanadelmar.blogspot.com 

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  • Ron

    how can you tell an original ?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’m not sure that it matters since a bajillion were made. Look that the frame is made from a single piece of steel rod – you won’t know if its old or not but you’ll know it is a quality item.

    • M Winkler

      the ones from the Knoll License aera have Knoll associates printed on the frame or in the later versions a sticker “Knoll International”.

  • http://www.sorcearchitecture.com Ron

    why black, the white looks great?

  • Sailorsdoll

    just picked up 2 of these wonderful butterfly chair frames this weekend – so very excited – and glad I found your article before I went to work scraping rust by hand! Thanks for the labor-saving tip! Will be on my way to buy a wire brush for my drill and get to work on restoring these babies! Perfect addition to our little MCM house/patio! 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Make sure you pick up the #0000 steel wool – that is probably the most important step!

      Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

      Cheers and good luck

  • ARCHcowboy

    I came across an original Eames lounge chair in great condition at a church garage sale once… they wanted $50 for it and I was distracted away from it before I could stake a claim to it.   I kick myself for that mistake almost daily…

    Great find on those chairs, enjoy!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That would haunt just about everybody I know. Now I’m sad for your loss.

      but thanks for commenting! 

  • Food*Sparks

    Lucky bastard!  lol  Why doesn’t that kinda’ stuff ever happen to me!?  haha  (BTW, went to an awesome estate sale this weekend, mid century home that hadn’t been touched since that era, including the furniture – it was all for sale!  I’ll tell ya’ about it some time). 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Was everything priced like they didn’t really want you to buy it? 

  • Duquellatile

    For a moment I thought that first photo was of you but then I took a big gulp of coffee and realized it wasn’t so.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Uhm … yeah. That’s my back yard (sweet isn’t it?)  ;) 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CCNTTTG4I3VYN24ZWJ4QKYLABM helloknitty

    Great timing – I was measuring my butterfly chairs this weekend so I could order replacement covers from Circa 50 and noticed that my frames too could use a bit of spiffing up.  Next order of business – a wire brush bit. Thanks for the labor saving tip.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Here’s another tip on the wire brush – get the largest diameter brush you feel like paying for – the small ones “kick” off the frame and you will spend a lot of forearm strength just holding it in place.

      Hope it all goes well! 

      • Stephen

        Bob i have 4 butterfly frame chairs from the 50s made of one solid piece of steel and wanted to know there value and where would i go to sell them?

        • Michael K

          Hey Stephen, I would be interested in buying them. 250-308-6072.

  • http://twitter.com/LeahThayer Leah Thayer

     Dumpster diving for the betterment of humanity, Bob. Thanks for saving those wonderful chairs!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Leah,

      Indeed, I am sure the parents of those chairs are glad to know I pulled them out of the gutter and restored them to respectability. Isn’t that that what architects do after all?

  • Charles

    Bob,  I appreciate your enthusiasm to renovate the butterfly chair frames.  I would have taken them to my local powder coating shop to get a longer lasting automotive finish though.  But that probably wouldn’t have the same amount of satisfaction of the wire brush and steel wool, get-your-hands-dirty experience.  BTW:  Have you sobered up from the black spray paint high yet?  If your chairs will reside on a deck or patio, don’t forget to mount some minimalist teflon slides on the “feet” to keep the new paint job pristeen and to keep a rust portal at bay…..
    I can’t wait to hear about your next DIY weekend project.  You have inspired me to re-finish my Art Deco metal lawn chairs…..

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Charles,

      Thanks for the tips. Part of the reason they sat ignored for so long was my plan to get them sand-blasted and then powder coated. I finally couldn’t take waiting for that sort of spare scratch any longer and just decided to take matter into my own hands in true DIY fashion.

      If you have some ideas on the teflon feet let me know – I was just planning on letting these live in the grass.

      Cheers, and thanks for taking time to comment.

  • http://twitter.com/robertsaia David Roberts

    Butterfly Chairs, My parents had an orange pair of them in the 50’s, as a kid I remember sitting in the sling, sort of upside down, out on our patio.  It was so comfortable to lounge in them. 

    • Cchivian

      I found some for $5 each at at estate sale this weekend, thanks for the DIY info!

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        Awesome!

      • M Winkler

        lucky!