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What is a Butterfly Chair?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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A butterfly chair is a chair made with a simple wooden or metal frame, with a single piece of fabric draped as a seat. Butterfly chairs are often used as outdoor or beach chairs, though may be found in houses or businesses with a distinctly modern aesthetic. The butterfly chair offers little to no support, forcing the person sitting in it to 'slump' down. The treatment of the sitter can best be described as an object placed in a sling, since that is essentially what the butterfly chair is. The center of the body and the legs jackknife towards one another, compressing the abdomen, and the neck is left free to swing about or to push forward further into a ball.

The butterfly chair was developed in 1938 by an Argentinian architect named Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy. For this reason they are sometimes referred to as Hardoy chairs, though butterfly chair seems to have taken over as the name of choice. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the butterfly chair became an iconic symbol of modernism, with its minimalist design and elevation of form over function. A classic story tells of an architect who was published because he took pictures of his decks and living spaces all with butterfly chairs in them, which lent them such an air of modernism that the magazine couldn't refuse.

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Though the butterfly chair is a poor design in terms of giving support to any area of the body, and is often criticized for its role in promoting bad posture, its psychological significance cannot be underestimated. In addition to its futuristic feel, the butterfly chair also offers a sense of relaxation in its lazy support. One cannot sit "well" in a butterfly chair, and so the feeling that one should have good posture is eliminated entirely. Additionally, many people have commented on the womb-like encircling that the butterfly chair exercises on the sitter, even to the extent of forcing them into a fetal position.

While the butterfly chair may appeal to many people, it is not particularly appropriate for those who do not have at least moderate flexibility and limberness. The elderly and overweight may find it difficult to rise out of the butterfly chair, since all their weight is pushed in towards the center and there is no good point to push off of. Many of the original supporters of the butterfly chair as the herald of modernity in the 1960s have commented that at their current age they can no longer use them, for simple reasons of practicality.

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anon120905
Post 3

I own an original 1960's butterfly chair which is constructed of thick bent metal rods. Not the flimsier metal of newer ones. These are not connected by any fittings but one or two continuous rods in the wing design, very simple, with a canvas sling with pockets to fit over the four wingtips. I would like to find the worth of this chair, which is practically indestructible. Even the canvas is still in good shape although faded.

anon93961
Post 2

I don't know, but would also like to find out.

medek
Post 1

How does one know if they have the original designer butterfly chair?

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