A New Era for BD Barcelona

by Rachel Hahn

Top left: Ettore Sottsass, Shiva flower vase, 1973; glazed ceramic. Available through BD Barcelona. Bottom: Pep Bonet and Cristian Cirici, Black modular sofa, 1972; polyurethane, acrylic.

Founded in 1972, iconic Spanish brand BD Barcelona Design began life in a discothèque — initially called BD Ediciones de diseño, the B stood not for Barcelona but for Bocaccio, a beloved nightclub frequented by the city’s left-wing intellectuals (aka the Gauche Divine) in the waning days of Franco’s dictatorship. BD’s founders — Studio PER members Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Pep Bonet, Cristian Cirici, and Lluís Clotet — were among the culturati on the dancefloor, and the brand’s renegade spirit owes much to its late-night beginnings, early output having included waterbeds, speculative mock-up furniture in cardboard, and “hermaphrodite cushions.”

Clockwise from top left: Jaime Hayon, Monkey side table, 2006; concrete. Ross Lovegrove, BDLove bench, 2003; painted polystyrene. Salvador Dalí, Òscar Tusquets, Dalilips loveseat, 1972; polyethylene. All products available through BD Barcelona.

Clockwise from top left: Stephen Burks, Grasso armchair, 2018; polyethylene, steel. Jaime Hayon, Banana wall hook, 2022; ash wood. Salvador Dalí, Rinoceróntico knob, 1930s; polished cast brass varnish. Javier Mariscal, Duplex stool, 1981; painted steel, leather. All products available through BD Barcelona.

Because the regime made it difficult to import design objects from abroad, the BD founders took it upon themselves to make such pieces themselves, with a distinctly Catalan spirit. Even with these countercultural roots, many of the early products were very utilitarian — think exhausts for kitchens, ironwork, and door plaques — and showed a reverence for the history of design — BD reproduced chairs and tables by Art Nouveau architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, as well as premièring Cubist rug designs by Juan Gris and launching the first production run of Antoni Gaudí’s furniture for the Casa Calvet.

The firm’s roster of contemporary designers was equally impressive, and included Salvador Dalí — Tusquets Blanca mined his friend’s sketchbooks for the most viable furniture projects, among them the Dalilips sofa, a cherry-red pout you can sit on, the Leda armchair, which embraces you with an arm and a hand before tapering down into high heeled feet, and a sheepskin chair matted so that it looks like someone sat in it for too long (Dalí called this effect invisible “personages”).

Clockwise from top left: Oscar Tusquets, Gaulino chair, 1987; stained black Ash, hide. Salvador Dalí, Leda armchair, 1991; polished cast brass varnish. Salvador Dali, Vis à Vis sofa, 1930s; solid wood, spring upholstery, cotton interior lining, natural silk cover, polished varnished cast brass. All products available through BD Barcelona.

Dalí’s anthropomorphic designs are the most extreme examples of BD Barcelona’s body-inspired pieces, which include a pre-Memphis Ettore Sottsass pink phallic vase (Shiva, 1973, one of the brand’s early icons, still in production today) and Jaime Hayon’s playful Monkey side table, cast as a single piece of concrete. But even Gaudí’s designs refer to the body, as one of BD Barcelona’s new partners, Apartamento co-founder Omar Sosa, explains: “With Gaudí, the gesture of the hand is so clear — it’s so organic. It’s not body shaped, it’s shaped with the body.”

Last fall, on the occasion of BD Barcelona’s 50th anniversary, Sosa, along with fellow Apartamento co-founders Nacho Alegre and Marco Velardi, Igor Urdampilleta of Arquitectura-G, and half-brothers Ricardo Jr. and Pablo Bofill — heirs to Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, the illustrious architecture office founded by their late father — bought a majority shareholding in BD Barcelona from the firm’s founders, with their full blessing. The young guard is currently digging through the archives to figure out what pieces to bring back — Sosa is particularly struck by some of the brand’s lost lamps from the 80s, including a hippie-looking model made from a sandbag and a bamboo cane — while planning which direction to take the company in the future. The answer lies, as ever, in the body. “BD always strives to be sexy. It was born on a dancefloor,” Sosa reminds us. “Even if they’re very functional, there is always this idea of sensuality implied in the objects.”

Oscar Tusquets, Gaulino, 1987; MDF veneered in ash and walnut wood varnished. Ross Lovegrove, BDLove bench, 2003; painted polystyrene. Salvador Dalí, Rinoceróntico knob, 1930s; polished cast brass varnish. Pepe Cortés, Jamaica stool, 2003; polyethylene, aluminum, and steel. Salvador Dalí, Bracelli sculpture-lamp, 1991; wood, fine gold leaf, ivory cotton, and rayon. Salvador Dalí, Òscar Tusquets, Dalilips loveseat, 1972. Salvador Dalí, Tumbona Portlligat armchair, 1962; solid Iroko wood with polyamide wheels.

Text by Rachel Hahn

All images courtesy of BD Barcelona. Additional creative direction by Office Ben Ganz

An earlier version of this article was published in PIN–UP 34