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The Bibendum Chair: A Modernist Masterpiece by Eileen Gray

The 20th century has seen its share of many furniture designs, but not all of them have garnered the title as one of the most popular. One such design that has stood the test of time is the Bibendum Chair. Designed by renowned Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray, the Bibendum Chair is a lounging chair with a distinctive semi-circular padded-tube back rest encased in soft leather. The Bibendum gets its name from the Michelin corporate mascot that the company uses to sell the tires.

The Bibendum chair was painstakingly created by Eileen Gray from 1917 to 1921. It was commissioned for Ms. Mathieu Lévy, a successful Parisian boutique owner that sold hats. Ms. Levy asked Gray to re-design her apartment in rue de Lota, and the Bibendum was one of the additions to the apartment by Gray to make the apartment look new and original. Overall, the Bibendum had a relatively large size, encompassing nearly 840 millimeters in depth and a height of 740 millimeters.

Probably the most visible part of the Bibendum was its legs of polished, chromium plated, stainless steel tubing. Eileen Gray framed the seat of the chair using beechwood and incorporated rubber webbing that was inter-woven on the base of the seat to provide more comfort to the occupant. Also, Gray exclusively used plain covering for the Bibendum, similar to that of another of her designs, the Serpent Chair. And much like the Serpent, the Bibendum Chair’s leather covering was of bright, plain red.

The reason for this was that the chair would not contribute to a cluttered or messy appearance of the apartment, and that the eye would be focused instead on the various interior ornaments and decorations. Unlike her earlier, more traditional projects, Eileen Gray deliberately designed the Bibendum chair as part of the modernist movement of the time, which emphasized simplicity and comfort. She also added that the change was simply to make “progress”. Nevertheless, the Bibendum became a huge hit among critics, calling it as a “triumph of modern living. And it is because of the Bibendum’s success critically and financially that prompted Gray to open up her very own gallery in 1922, starting her long and illustrious career in architecture and furniture design.

Although it no longer has the same following as it had during its glory days, the Bibendum chair is still quite popular and fetches a good price on the market. This timeless appeal was due to the intention of Eileen Gray to make the room feature the chair look more cozy and inviting.







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