home interiors, minimal design, simple furniture

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet’s bentwood chairs

Your Home Needs This: bentwood chair

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.

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Bentwood chairs look great mis-matched around a dining table via Entrance

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Bringing together white walls and an old vintage table via Stadshem

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.

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

A bit of contrast again a pale neutral background via Entrance

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Modern meets vintage via trendenser

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…

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

A bentwood chair used as a bedside stand via Fantastic Frank

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Used here in a monochrome scheme via hannas inspo

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Light and calm via Stil Inspiration

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Paired with a Saarinen-style tulip table via Avenue Lifestyle

Your Home Needs This #05: Thonet's bentwood chairs

Two chairs just waiting to be sat in, don’t they look like they’re in conversation with one another? via Fantastic Frank

What do you think? Would you have a bentwood chair in your home?

20 Comments

  1. Pingback: Your Home Needs This: Hans J. Wegner's Wishbone Chair - cate st hill

  2. Oh I love these chairs so much! I actually have one that I have been meaning to paint for my bedroom and now after seeing this post – You’ve convinced me 😉

    A x

  3. I LOVE this post! And the Thonet chair. I contributed to a conference (and publication) a few years back on the subject of the Viennese coffeehouse, and there was a paper all about Thonet chairs, with slides of all the different designs and patents. Such a design classic that has stood the test of time, as your wonderful post and images show. I’d definitely have a Thonet in my home :)

  4. I’d love to have a set of Thonet chairs at home. I remembered watching how they bent the wood at Designjunction. So much work but the end result is a beauty.

  5. Such a gorgeous post and wonderfully informative as well. These are certainly beautiful no matter what the style they reside in. I especially love the rattan seat ones with arms. Simple and beautiful design. xxx

    • Thanks Kimberly, I always like to know the story behind a design. I would love a rattan seat one with arms, one day! x

  6. So love these chairs, and it has to be the ones with the woven seat. I can’t really justify chucking out my six dining room chairs (wood, black metal and also woven seats) but I’m very very tempted 😉 They’re simply classics. xo

    • They definitely are classics, something you would invest in and have around for years, if not generations to come x

  7. Such classic and beautiful looks. I love the monochrome scheme, so stylish. And the table I would love!

  8. Lovely Cate, I’ve always loved the shaped on this chair – such a classic and so versatile! xx

    • I’m slowly getting through all the chairs, should have done these posts before your chair quiz at blogmas 😉

  9. I have a bentwood chair in my home bought by my husband. It was expensive but it sits in the corner of our bedroom looking beautiful and when we have friends over and need that extra chair it comes out and I’m always surprised at how comfy it is! Our challenge is finding a beautiful old kitchen table which will embrace the scratches, marks and scuffing from our family life. I fear this may require much hunting for that beautiful but comfortable solution! Lovely table displays in those photographs btw!

    • Oh how lucky, I like the idea of it sitting in the bedroom and coming out for special occasions! For a robust kitchen table have you tried Loaf, or an antique fair such as Ardingly and Shepton Mallet, where they bring gorgeous vintage pieces over from France? x

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