I’m welcoming in another week in January with another ‘Your Home Needs This’ post, where I profile a must-have design object that is on my wishlist or in my own home. You know, pieces of furniture that are beautiful, but functional and timeless too, that you keep seeing popping up in all those swoon worthy Pinterest and magazine shots. This time it’s the turn of Thonet’s classic bentwood chair – the king of chairs, if you like.
This iconic coffee house chair was developed and perfected by German-Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet when he started experimenting with bending solid wood in the 1850s. Thonet’s technique made use of solid rods of beech that were less prone to splitting than other species such as oak or birch. The rods were placed in a pressure vessel, where steam would be applied until the resin surrounding the timber fibres became pliable. The wood could then be bent around the form and left to cure, forming the sculptural curve of the bentwood chair.
The chair’s clean lines and economical use of material (comprising just six parts) anticipated the modernism of the 20th century and the move from workshop to mass production for the first time. Some 36 disassembled chairs could be packed into a 1m2 box, to be shipped and assembled on site. Instantly popular, his designs were soon seen in all the fashionable Vienna cafes, before being transported to the rest of Europe and world-wide through design fairs. It won Thonet a gold medal for at the Paris World Fair 1867. Later, famous modernist Swiss architect Le Corbusier was an advocate, featuring the chair in many of his buildings, such as the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart in 1927.
Thonet’s original 1859 design was conceived without armrests, it was only later when his sons took over the company following his death in 1871 that a single piece of solid beech wood was used to create the cocooning backrest and armrest. Both are still classics, more than 160 years later, which you can’t say for many pieces of furniture today. Their smooth, elegant curves look right at home in the most minimalist of interiors, as well as with cane work seats in cosier, more eclectic spaces. I think they look especially good with Saarinen’s tulip table, that I adore and have written about many times before. One of these beauties is definitely on my forever home wishlist…
What do you think? Would you have a bentwood chair in your home?