We’ve already mentioned on several occasions that Gaudí was an all-round artist. He didn’t see architecture as separate from other art forms and that’s why, in addition to being an innovative architect, this Reus-born man was also an expert in ceramics, a great blacksmith, an excellent interior designer and a magnificent sculptor. He firmly believed that nature held the key to everything and for him, beauty and functionality went hand in hand.
To show you some of his lesser-known sides, we’re going to have a look at another brilliant chapter in the work of Gaudí: his furniture designs.
The perfection that characterises Gaudí’s architectural work can also be seen in his furniture. It was a precursor of ergonomic and industrial design and, as a fervent believer that nature holds the key to all perfection, he studied the human body to create furniture that fit our anatomy, always seeking out the simplest, most comfortable option for the user.
His chairs seem shaped from the mark we leave when we sit down and seek out rounded forms that fit the human form. Likewise, he disregarded any reference to style to focus exclusively on form, emphasising the grain and texture of the wood. He got rid of upholstery and superfluous decoration, and even included innovations like the use of iron for fasteners or ornamentation. The pews for the crypt at Colonia Güell are a good example of this and an anticipation of ideas that would later be seen in the work of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.
When we look at the furniture designed by Gaudí, we see his vocation clearly. His first design dates back to 1878, just after finishing his degree, and was for his own desk. His early works are marked by their structural and formal references to eclecticism and neo-gothic style. The furniture for the Chapel/Mausoleum at Sobrellano (1878-1881) is a good example of these creations, with a chair combining red velvet, metal legs and carefully carved walnut. The chairs from Palacio Güell and the upholstered armchairs from the main floor of Casa Calvet reflect the fastidiousness of their owners. The chaise-lounge from Palacio Güell, made of wood, iron and golden velvet, features a great wealth of details and was inspired by those from the Second French Empire.
The evolution of his furniture culminated with the pieces for the office and storeroom at Casa Calvet and the armchairs and chairs for Casa Batlló. Progressively, Gaudí began getting rid of the ornate decorative elements to highlight the form and raw materials. Each piece is a work of art with its own personality. Nevertheless, they all work together to make up the set of furnishings as a whole, fitting the space for which they were intended. More than functional objects, Gaudí created sculptures, organic pieces that were at times abstract and in many cases ahead of the surrealist lines and themes that would be seen in the following decades.
One of the last pieces of furniture he designed were the pews for the church at Colonia Güell (1914). He once again used iron and wood for these pieces. The straight back doesn’t match up with the seat, designed so that users can't chat with those next to them, as they are tilted slightly outwards. The prie-dieus can be lifted up so they don’t get muddy on rainy days. As you can see once again, Gaudí never did anything just for the sake of it.
In 2013, Sala Balclis auctioned off a sewing chair that had just come to light. It was designed by Gaudí around 1907 and made of wood from Cuba. It is believed to be a model for the rest of the chairs, making it an important historical piece. The front edge of the chair is ergonomically curved in what is known as the ‘waterfall front’ and Gaudí turned it so it would adapt to Mrs Batlló’s body when she was sewing.
Initially, Gaudí designed the furnishings for Casa Batlló with anatomical differences between the chairs for women and those for men. Plus, his original proposals also allowed users to sit in different positions. Amalia Godó, however, was firmly against these designs and they ended up being unisex.
The piece auctioned off by Balclis was sold on the second day. When it appeared on the screen, an unidentified woman raised her hand and offered the starting price of 38,000 euros. She took the chair.
It seems that the great grandmother of the sellers had handed it down to their grandmother and she to their father. It stayed in the family home until the death of the mother of the brothers who sold it. One of them remembered that the chair was always closely tied to Fermina García, the woman who cared for the children of José Batlló’s second daughter and also safeguarded Casa Batlló and all of its furnishings when the owners left during the Civil War.
But this isn't the only piece of Gaudí’s furniture to have gone to auction. In 2007, a buyer paid one million euros for the screen from Casa Milà auctioned by Christie’s in New York and in May 2011, one of his two-seater benches went for 320,000 euros in Paris.
In addition to the furnishings from Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, Gaudí also designed lampposts for the Barcelona City Council and the Plaza Mayor in Vic, the standard for the Barcelona guild of locksmiths and blacksmiths, the pulpitis for the Santa María church in Blanes and a display case for a glove shop, among many other things. Are you interested in learning more about these pieces? You can see them all here and marvel at another of the many talents of this genius of the past century.