So you want to buy a Barcelona Chair but don’t want to spend a fortune on the Knoll version selling at full list price. That’s where modern classic furniture reproductions come in. But how do you know if it’s going to be a faithful, high-quality reproduction or an ill-thoughtout knockoff? Here are some things to consider.
The Knoll version is also a reproduction!
Florence Knoll made a deal with the designer to reproduce the visionary x shaped chair for commercial use in Chicago. However, even in Florence Knoll’s early reproductions of the Barcelona chair, modifications were made from the prototype. Photos of the original chairs show that the cushion tufts were diamond patterned, not squares. And though the original chair frames were built of nine steel components bolted together, Knoll opted for seamless welding. She kept the chrome-plated steel until the advent of polished stainless in 1964, which cost more but, unlike some chrome applications, didn’t peel.
The longstanding debate around the issue of “real” vs. reproduction Barcelona Chairs is quickly rising to an out-and-out fever pitch on the internet. So why the hubbub? The intensity of interest would seem to indicate a widespread and abiding dedication, if not an obsession, with this mid century design masterpiece. Internet chat forums on the subject attract amazing numbers of inquisitive and surprisingly well informed visitors and posters. One forum alone http://www.designaddict.com has seen 42,000 + visitors to their Barcelona thread – between its inception in October 2002 and the beginning of 2005.
So what’s all the commotion about? We need to take close up look to see what everyone is talking about here to compare the differences.
Reproductions: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Here is a close up of the GibraltarFurniture.com model of the Barcelona Chair. Note that the lines are perfect and that the entire frame is made out of polished stainless steel. All of the angles are exactly like original.
Many of the low price knock offs you’ll find elsewhere simply use pig iron dipped in chrome. In comparison you will find that the stainless steel upgrade that Gibraltar offers has a highly polished effect that outshines chrome. In addition, the problem with chrome is that it peels off over time. It’s also subject to corrosion, scratches, and deterioration. In the end you will have a piece of furniture that is compromised and second rate.
In particular, buyers should look for models that use premium 12MM thickness solid imported stainless steel (no. 304) on the narrow parts and higher gauge for the frame. For instance the Gibraltar Barcelona flat bars frames are made of 32MM wide stainless steel. Solid stainless steel frames create excellent strength, polishing ability, and springing capability. These structures are usually 20% thicker and stronger the other entries in this filed. Such frames have superior resistance to oxidation or corrosion.
Here is a picture of a Gibraltar Barcelona Ottoman compared to an inferior Barcelona Ottoman that you can find on the internet. The leather that the manufactures use is often sourced from water buffalo or pigs. Many producers of low cost imitations also use leather match or poly vinyl chloride covering.
Insist on Italian leathers that has top grain to (aniline) full grain covers. This insures that the color is consistent throughout your chair. Avoid lesser models that employ leathers that are highly corrected from China. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a very strong odor from these chairs.
When you examine a cheap imported chair you may notice that the leather is embossed with faux grain and is very uniform. This is a result of man made engineered material that is composed of scrap and bits and pieces that are bonded together artificially.
Keep in mind there are no 2 leathers alike. Many low price releases use split leathers (that are low in grade) and stamp a faux top grain pattern on the top or leather match material…
For leather that has the softest touch, consider purchasing full naked aniline leather instead.
Since 2000, a flood of super cheap Barcelona imports has been dumped into the market place. The models are usually composed of cheap steel cast in China and the frames have a nickel content is much lower than the Gibraltar or Knoll version.
The end result is rust and or corrosion. The frames are fabricated from molds with molten steel dumped into them. What is little known is that casting metal in this fashion is one of the cheapest ways of creating frames. The end result in using these molds is that pit holes can form during polishing phase. Such pits can lead to frame failure. These models usually sell for $399-$799 on the internet but cannot match the leather, strength, and quality of the solid spring steel used in the Gibraltar version and the Knoll $5,000 versions.
Look for chair cushions that use high density (2lb) fire-rated foam. This will give your Barcelona chair longevity, performance and a look that will last for years.
Avoid low density foam which will lose shape in a very short period of time.
On the original the back cushion rise about 1 inch over the stainless steel frame. Both the Knoll and the Gibraltar version have a height of 31 inches. On the other hand the cheaper Chinese knock offs are WAY OUT of proportion compared to the original version. They tend to sit very awkwardly and are totally out of proportion to the original. Some models are up to 34 inches high.
When analyzing Barcelona chairs cushions, make sure they cushions have Italian leather on ALL sides. This is not a standard feature for many lower prices chairs. Make sure that the model you select has Italian Leather all of the way around it. Though some of these chairs say their leather is “Italian”, you will often see that the leather is actually coming from China. These chairs may have a strong odor and are very offensive.
Make sure that your cushions are attached with buckles and or straps that are hidden from general view. With many lower priced models the attachment hardware is completely totally viewable from the rear of the chair.
Knoll is currently actively engaged in an attempt to scare away retailers and manufactures from selling any Barcelona product. The manufacturer is currently in litigation to choke off any non-Knoll entries into the marketplace
To win a judgment, Knoll’s lawyers would have to convince a jury that there is a “likelihood of confusion” in the mind of the consumer. And to the undiscerning eye, often the cheap reproductions are quite similar to the originals, varying only in small changes of width or height, or the thickness of the frame. Most experts regard this as saber ratting and ignore their efforts to stymie competitors.
David Harrison, a trademark lawyer at Rosen & Livingston in New York reports that after 75 years, the design for the Barcelona chair is in the public domain. Knoll can do little more than “make a lot of noise”.
James Biber, an architect at the firm Pentagram, sympathizes with consumers. Knockoffs, if done faithfully, make classic furniture available to a wider range of people and “Spread awareness of good design. Consumers usually can’t tell the difference unless they turn it over and look at the label.”
High Quality Reproductions made with 100% Italian Leather at GibraltarFurniture.com
We love doing business with all sorts of customers from home owners to Architectural firms and designers. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have!
Gibraltar’s Toll Free Number: 1-800-416-3635
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