In the Studio: Bentwood Chair
[Bentwood Chair (2011) /Image & Artwork: designsinger studio]
It's a chair that has been around for almost 155 years. It broke the mold, and set the bar for modern, contemporary furniture design forever after.
[Thonet "Vienna Coffee House Chair" (ca. 1859), Michael Thonet, designer and manufacturer /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]
Michael Thonet started his chair making business in 1819. In 1859, after two decades of constant experimentation, he came up with a chair unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. It was slim-lined, light-weight, inexpensive, and most of all, could be mass produced. Fifty-five years before Henry Ford's version of assembly-line production, Thonet developed a system of component line manufacturing. First he figured out a way to make 6 pre-cut pieces of solid beechwood bendable by steaming them, then shape the now flexible material in cast-iron molds he'd designed until dry, then assemble the formed sections into a chair using 10 screws and 2 nuts, eventually adding two small diagonal braces for additional support. To make and assemble his "Vienna coffeehouse chair" did not require a well-trained work force, which lowered costs, and made the diaphanous but sturdy chair very popular with cafes around the world. By 1930, 50 million of Thonet's popular "bent wood" marvels had been sold.
[Bentwood Chair - drying /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]
The Thonet company didn't stop innovative chair design with the bentwood models. In the mid-1920s the German-based company began working with Bauhaus designers like Mart Stam, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer in constructing tubular steel-framed chairs. Although the factory was destroyed during the Second World War, the company rebuilt, and today Peter Thonet serves as managing director. We included a piece of the 19th century in our portfolio of 20th century classics because Michael Thonet's beautifully bent, exquisitely executed and enduring design got the ball rolling.
See our tribute to Thonet's genius at: Bentwood Chair.