Mies Daybed Edith Farnsworth House

photo by: Matthew Gilson

Preservation Magazine, Fall 2023

The Barcelona Couch Represents a Specific Era of the Edith Farnsworth House

The Barcelona couch, designed by Mies van der Rohe, was not something Edith Farnsworth selected when furnishing her Modernist weekend retreat. But this fixture of Midcentury Modern decor is a defining piece in the history of the architectural treasure that bears Farnsworth’s name.

Now open to the public as a National Trust Historic Site, the Edith Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, was also designed by Mies, with construction completed in 1951. Though Farnsworth initially furnished it with pieces by Jens Risom, Florence Knoll, Franco Albini, Bruno Mathsson, and others, that would not have been the architect’s original intent, says Scott Mehaffey, the site’s executive director.

Like many of his contemporaries, Mies felt that buildings should be total works of art, with the architect selecting and designing all aspects, including the furniture. So when British developer and arts patron Peter Palumbo bought the house in 1972, he did what he could to capture Mies’ original vision.

Now internationally known for collecting Modernist homes, Lord Palumbo bought a Barcelona Couch through Mies’ office and completed furnishing the house with other pieces designed by Mies and his grandson, architect Dirk Lohan, who also worked on restorations of the property. In 2003, the National Trust assumed ownership of the site, including the couch (shown in foreground) and other Palumbo-era furniture pieces.

In "Every Line is a Decision: The Life and Legacies of Peter Palumbo," an exhibition at the Edith Farnsworth House that runs until November 27, 2023, many of Lord Palumbo’s personal effects, decorative objects, and artwork have been temporarily returned, offering visitors a glimpse at the three-decade period during which he used it as a vacation house, guest house, and office.
Dennis Hockman

Dennis Hockman is editor in chief of Preservation magazine. He’s lived in historic apartments and houses all over the United States and knows that all old buildings have stories to tell if you care to find them.

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