Demystifying Thonet Bentwood Chairs - A Brief History

Demystifying Thonet Bentwood Chairs - A Brief History

Demystifying Thonet Bentwood Chairs - A Brief History

Being one of the most recognizable chairs that were ever made in the history of furniture industry, Bentwood chairs are undoubtedly one of the most distinguishable chairs that enhance the appeal of any space.

Featuring a simple yet tasteful design, these chairs are found all across the globe and are arguably best, when it comes to beauty, sturdiness and structure. Designed to pass the test of time, the Bentwood chairs are certainly more popular today, than they were ever before.

Bentwood chairs get their name because of the fact that the wood in these chairs has been bent into a specific position. Made from the combination of moisture and heat, the wood in these chairs is made flexible and soft enough to be easily bent into different shapes. Once they are dried, the wood in them hardens and keeps them in their new shape permanently for rest of their life.

Different types of wood can be used for making Bentwood chairs. However, beech and ash are usually the best, as they are easy to bend and never crack like other types of harder wood. The harder wood tend to crack during the process of bending. Currently, Bentwood chairs are used in millions of businesses, commercial spaces, facilities as well as homes and have still not gone out of style.

Thonet and Bentwood Chair – The Origin

Bentwood chairs are at times, also known as Thonet chairs. This is because they are named as Thonet chairs, after their creator, by the name Michael Thonet. Although Bentwood chairs were being made almost two centuries even before Thonet was born, they were still named after him. This is mainly owing to the fact that, Thonet was the person who made the process of bending the wood used in this chairs easier. This marked the beginning of mass production of these chairs.

Born on 2nd July, 1796, Michael Thonet spent the first thirty years of his life making cabinets. However, he perfected the furniture-making process by mid 1830s. This process involved making a combination of glued and bent wooden slats. Although his first huge success was the Boppard Layerwood chairs, he did not get any patent for his technology of making dining chairs using materials from various countries.

Essentially, Thonet chairs were the result of the hot steam on the light colored, strong wood, which were gracefully bent into elegant curves. Thonet used this approach to create a wide array of unique designs that were extremely durable and comfortable. In spite of initial setbacks, his wise choice of wood and the usage of hot steam actually set the tone for making Bentwood chairs of the future.

Going back in the time – From 19th to the 20th Century

By the time of the American Civil War outbreak, in the year 1861, Thonet had already established his very first factory unit and had begun making a large number of different designs of bentwood chairs. One of his most popular chairs was simply named as -No 14'. However, it was also known as the Qitay or Vienna chair. This design was that of a typical coffee-shop chair and this was continuously produced since the factory was first established. Till date, over 10 million of these No 14 chairs have been manufactured.

The bentwood chairs were expendable, as they were made in huge masses. According to Thonet, this was one of the most innovative feature of the bentwood chairs. During the World Exhibition in Paris, held in the year 1867, Thonet was awarded a gold medal for his astonishing design. Later, the popularity for his chairs grew exponentially. A while later, in the year 1889, a Thonet company member threw one of their chairs from the Eiffel Tower. The chair managed to impact the ground upon getting smashed. This made the crowd go crazy about the appreciative properties of this chair and the sales of these chairs phenomenally shot up over an extremely short period of time.

The process of manufacturing these chairs followed by Thonet was rapidly copied by several other manufacturers in the industry and different types of Bentwood chairs started making their appearance in different parts of the world. As many different designs and shapes of these chairs could be created, several top furniture designers were able to put their stamp on these chairs.

However, as the time passed, by the 19th century these chairs had already stepped into a new age with the flourishing economies of the United States and Europe. This opened up an all new market for these chairs, which consisted of people who could easily afford the low-priced version of these chairs for domestic purposes, at homes.

Curious about Bentwood Chairs – Here are some Interesting facts

Right from scientists to painters, including several world leaders, numerous famous personalities have owned these Bentwood chairs. Some of them are:

• Albert Einstein
• Joseph Stalin
• Pablo Picasso and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

For that matter, in one of the works of Lautrec, known as -At the Moulin Rouge', there are actually two Bentwood chairs, present in the painting. However, there are several other note-worthy personalities who have owned this iconic chair.

Another extremely fascinating fact is that, out of the 80+ million Bentwood chairs are sold, since they were first manufactured, more than half of the sales occurred even before the year 1930. Although these chairs are extremely popular, several other types of chairs have made their way in to the global market and have become popular among the general public. Therefore, these chairs are not as powerful as they were, but still hold an important place in the contemporary world.

Although Thonet was using glue when he first made these chairs, no glue is being used today to manufacture these chairs. Interestingly, Thonet had actually purchased a glue factory to ensure that he had a constant supply of glue for the production of these chairs. However, the very first one produced in the year 1856 did not use any glue. Named as -No 1', this chair was made devoid of glue, leaving Thonet with a factory, which he actually did not require any more.

Furthermore, the most celebrated chair, -No 14, only required a few screws and nuts that put the six different pieces together. This was such a simple process that, several people bought this chair when it was still in pieces and they put them together. The chair was accompanied with a simple set of easy-to-understand instructions. However, it is still not known whether any Sweden-based company derived their business-related idea from this or not.

Although millions and millions of Bentwood chairs were produced, not two chairs were ever similar. This is because they were made from various types of timbers, making each one of them unique even though they look alike. They are so unique that you can spot the dissimilarities even in the grain along with many other aspects between them even when you place two chairs side by side.

Arguably, Thonet or bentwood chairs had revolutionized the furniture industry and today, are still one of the most popular types of chairs that were ever made.