In 1938, three architects (members of an association known as Grupo Austral, Antonio Bonet Castellana, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy) presented the butterfly chair at a Buenos Aires exhibition. The design so impressed Kaufmann, then an industrial-design curator for the Museum of Modern Art, that he promptly imported one for his parents’ new weekend house, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. He imported another for the museum too. After winning the award in 1943, the American Edgar Kaufman Jr., curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), bought two chairs for $25 each. One was for the museum's permanent collection, the other for his father's home, a collector of high design, as he had a house in Neutra, another in Mies, and the other third was the famous Falling Water house of Frank Lloyd Wright, which was where the BKF came to reside.
Most people says that the first “B.K.F” chair, produced in 1938 by Argentine designers arrived at Fallingwater with a leather cover, and is now displayed in Edgar Kaufmann Sr.’s study. Canvas versions of the “butterfly” chairs soon appeared, and were peppered about the terraces of Fallingwater by Kaufmann, who appreciated the sculptural simplicity of suspended seating within a thin steel frame.
In 1944, BKF received the Acquisition of MOMA prize, and in 1945 was presented in the Pavilion "Jeu de Pomme" in Paris.
When Knoll acquired the U.S. production rights in 1947, a phenomenon was born. The chair’s metal base and sack seat represented a rejection of what MoMA's current design curator Juliet Kinchin calls “the hard-edged kind of machine aesthetic of modernism in the 1930s.” The Hardoy was also a rejection of good posture and formal clothing. “It’s an impossibly improper chair,” Hannah says. “Women have to have pants on to sit in it.” Young families bought it in droves. By Knoll’s estimate, more than five million copies were produced in the 1950s.
There the chair was seen by the director of the magazine Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, where he asked for it and began to produce them to sell to subscribers. He used the name “AA chair”, although this was not economically beneficial to the original designers when compared to the production in the U.S. Soon after, the company Hans Knoll started production of the armchairs. The son of a renowned furniture maker in Germany began to produce them under the name Butterfly for the company Knoll International beginning in 1947, until the war stopped production because of the shortage of steel.
In a 1954 article, George Nelson introduced the Tripolina, the chair used by the Italian officers in North Africa, more or less a folding BKF, but with a wooden frame. Thus was established the connection between the BKF and Tripolina.
Like any piece of culture, the most interesting thing is to find the original, a very difficult thing to do with the BKF. Perhaps the original is the one displayed in the MoMA in New York. Difficult to know exactly where they are but please do not worry about that, we are crafting exactly the same model as the original, keeping the hand art work and high quality leather that was used when these 3 visionary guys launched the chair in 1938.
Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, Jorge Ferrari Hardoy | BKF Chair, 1938 | Steel, leather at the Fallingwater house