A chair is a great addition to any interior. Read about a strategy How to Find the Right Chair for your home in one of my older posts. In a smaller space, the size and proportion of your chairs makes a big difference. You will find some of the most iconic chairs in the history of design in this new column. Why not splurging on a designer chair when downsizing?

The Mass Production of Bentwood Furniture

With the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century companies were experimenting with modern production techniques to produce high quality furniture in large quantities. Michael Thonet, a German-born craftsman and furniture designer, was a pioneer in mass-producing bentwood furniture. He unravelled the complicated technical properties of wood and tested its flexibility. His designs were simple but with distinctive quality. When he exhibited at the Koblenz fair in 1841, Prince Metternich from Austria discovered his talent and as he wanted to promote Austria’s industrialisation, he invited Thonet to his castle and convinced him to open a workshop in Vienna.

In 1842, the Austrian court granted Michael Thonet the right “to bend any type of wood, into the desired forms and curves by chemical and mechanical means”. Protected by patent, Gebrueder Thonet was the only business in the Austria-Hungarian Empire for more than a decade that could legally produce bentwood furniture. His company became famous on an international level, entering countless industrial fairs and opening branches throughout Europe during the 1860s.

One of the most iconic chairs is the Thonet Chair No. 14, minimal in its design and economical in its use of material. This chair is regarded as the most successful industrial product of the 19th century and it spanned the transition from workshop to factory production. Thonet optimised the design until, by 1867, the chair could be made from six pieces of bentwood, ten screws and two washers.

In 1860 Thonet developed the first rocking chair (Rocking Chair No. 1) for the middle and upper classes, who were encouraged by the Arts and Crafts movement and looked at rustic furniture in a new light. The Rocking Chair had a slow start but by 1913, one in every twenty chairs sold by Thonet was a rocking chair.

Thonet’s comfortable desk chair, Chair No. 9 or Vienna Chair, was released in 1902. It became world famous when the architect LeCorbusier chose it to furnish his Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Featured Image: Thonet No. 14 Rocking Chair, Thonet Australia


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