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Mies van der Rohe created the Barcelona chair at the very beginning of the modernist period, and it became a precedent for many items that were later a part of what we call the mid-century modernist style. The chair became an instant icon, and now everybody wants one, end of story.

This is what most people know about the Barcelona chair. Talking about it is likely to mean talking about van der Rohe’s work, the Bauhaus, the end of the Bauhaus, Germany, architecture, and so on. But this is not the whole story of the Barcelona chair: though Mies was the main designer, the final product was actually a team effort. Did you know that?

Suggested Item: Barcelona Chair

Introducing Lilly Reich, German designer of modernist furniture

Born in 1885, Lilly Reich was a German embroider that began her professional career at the Vienna Workshop, helmed by Josef Hoffmann. She presented herself mainly as an interior designer, and that’s how most people know her today, but she also became involved in many architectural projects, along with furniture design.

Reich met Mies in the 1920s, when he was the Vice President of the German Workers Federation. She became the first woman to get a seat at the Federation’s executive board. Their relationship started as a friendship that later developed into a personal (and professional) affair that would last for years.

Suggested Item: Barcelona Chair Replica

She designed many interiors to accompany the architectural proceedings of van der Rohe’s expositions, and she became quite famous on her own regard. However, many people don’t know that she had a very important role in the design of the Barcelona pavilion chair, enough to earn a spot as co-designer.

Why is Lilly Reich important to the mid-century furniture world?

Some mid-century fans might be tempted to consider both of them as the German version of the Eames couple, but the Mies-Reich duo was always a professional endeavor first and foremost, even if some people considered Reich to be (quite pejoratively) van der Rohe’s “mistress.”

The truth is that Mies had never designed a piece of furniture until he met Lilly Reich. In a way, it was her who gave us the Barcelona chair. Both designers collaborated constantly until 1938, when van der Rohe migrated to the United States. She became a background figure, barely mentioned in the history books, until present discussions about forgotten women artists brought her back into the spotlight.

Suggested Item: Barcelona Chair Replica

If you really consider yourself to be a mid-century furniture connoisseur, or a lover of the Bauhaus, you’d be wrong to forget about Lilly Reich and focus solely on van der Rohe’s work: the two go hand in hand. According to some historians, she was responsible for the upholstery, the stuffing, and the final couch design of the Barcelona chair: she brought the concept into the real world, and she deserves recognition now, and in the years to come.