Reproduction Barcelona Chair - The Knoll or Knock off Debate
The longstanding debate around the issue of real versus reproduction Barcelona Chairs is quickly rising to a veritable feaver pitch. So why the hubbub? The level of interest would seem to indicate a widespread and abiding affection, if not an obsession with this mid century design masterpiece.
Internet chat forums on the subject attract astonishing 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 Chair thread - between its inception in October 2002 and the beginning of 2005.
So what's all the fuss about?
Knoll, the only licensed manufacturer of Barcelona chairs has some impressive competition.
Although they make an undeniably beautiful product some of the knock offs are really quite excellent.
Knoll's sumptuous 1.1mm thick, grain corrected Spinneyback Volo leather is perhaps a little thinner and a tinsy bit more sumptuous than Steelform's 1.1mm high grade aniline Italian leather, or Alphaville's full grain aniline Italian leather, but one would have to be quite an officianado to notice or indeed to care about the difference between them.
Knolls expertly hand stitched and piped Barcelona cushions are certainly impressive but the 28 hours that it takes to construct the cushions for one chair, are the same whether they are expertly hand stitched for Knoll or for Alphaville.
And the lovely lines of the Barcelona X chair's legs are just as lovely, and indeed just as structurally sound whether they are bent, welded, ground and polished for Knoll, Steelform, Alphaville or Euro style.
So how is a poor buyer to make a comparative decision about which of the Barcelona Chairs is the best for you?
The answer as they say should lie in the experience - but the difference between a 17" high 30x30 seat and a 16" high 30x30" seat made little impression on my mind or my derriere
From a purely subjective perspective, I preferred the firmer seat of the Alphaville and Steelform Barcelona Chairs over the softer seat of the Eurostyle, but Eurostyle has since redesigned their Barcelona chair cushion making the seat a little firmer, and besides which the softness of the seat is a purely subjective matter. I prefer stainless steel over chrome and so would personally tend towards the Alphaville over the Steelform, but even I must admit that I'm not sure if I could identify one over the other if asked to do so.
And so I'm afraid it must come down to a question of authenticity and of course price. This is where we can really dig our teath into objective differences.
Knoll's glorious chair is the only licensed Barcelona Chair on the market; the only chair to bare an imprint of the Mies signature, and the only one that comes with a certificate of authenticity. So if this is what's important to you, then you are in luck; bank account permitting, the decision has been made for you.
If however you are unimpressed by signatures and certificates of authenticity; or if the $4,655 price tag of the Knoll leaves you in a state of shock, then the choice becomes somewhat more complex.
Knoll and their lawyers have now induced all the main manufacturers and distributors of reproduction Barcelona Chairs to cease and disist from distribution in the US. Alphaville, the manufacturer of the leading reproduction (in terms of quality) is, as of 2010 permitted, to sell their reproduction for a high minimum price for a period of 3 or so years. Per the agreement reached following a court case by Alphaville against Knoll. Knoll obviously has deeper pockets than any of the other contenders and so the issue was resolved out of court.
It appears however that Alphaville is having some internal difficulties following this injunction, and is now taking up to 28 weeks to deliver custom chairs to the US.
The following describes the situation in 2006, and although not a current reflection of the market or availability of reproduction Barcelona Chairs in the US, it is none the less an interesting history
There are four serious contenders to consider here: Alphaville Barcelona Chair, (made in China, distributed from CA, USA), Steelform Barcelona Chair, (made and distributed in Italy - not legally available in the US as of the beginning of 2006), Form by Form Barcelona Chair, (made in Italy distributed from Germany, and difficult to purchase from the US), and Euro Style Barcelona Chair, (made in Italy and distributed from the CA, US).
All but Eurostyle offer a high end full leather aniline model ranging in price from Alphaville's $999 to Steelform's $1,550, however these prices do not take shipping, handling and import fees into account and so are only part of the picture. Our European brethren have the last laugh as they can either benefit from the low US exchange rate or from the lower 'within Europe' shipping rates. Those in the US however will pay an additional $450+ for shipping from Steelform (by sea) in addition to the costs of low US dollar exchange rate.
If you live in Europe you may find that the low US dollar exchange rate has some benefits for you. If you should choose to purchase Alphaville's $999 chair and convert it to say, pounds sterling you will find your price is an attractive 436.60 U.K. pounds. Add approximately $450 to that, (240.17 U.K. pounds for air freight - if your supplier has a good relationship with Fed Ex) and you still have quite a deal at about 800 pounds including shipping by sea; Or if you buy from Steelform you would pay about 1065.00 U.K. pounds (at current exchange rates) plus a mere 100 pounds shipping, totaling 1165 UK pounds.Alphaville also now offers yet another version of their Barcelona Chair that meets the stringent UK fire retardent materials regulations, (more strict than those of the rest of Europe or the US) - This version is 20% more expensive than the usual price of either the aniline or standard Italian Leather. Only available by special order - they take about 12 weeks to ship but for British customers it may be worth your while.
And lastly if price is your primary concern it has to be said that Alphaville's 'standard' Barcelona Chair model with top grain Italian leather, (rather than aniline dyed leather) at around $880 or so (depending on what specials are on offer at the time) from Modern Furniture Classics.com or $1,550.00 from Alphaville direct, is exceptionally good value (even at the higher price); and even more so if you are converting to pounds or Euros.Although it is not aniline leather, this version of the Barcelona chair looks and feels remarkably similar to the others, but at about half the price it might prove considerably more attractive.