Michael Thonet was an innovative furniture maker. He spent the early 1840s perfecting a technique to steam bend solid beech. Once soften by steam, the wood could be molded by using a press. He combined this technique with other time and money saving methods. He began using standard components; the same bentwood piece could be used for a variety of applications. More importantly, the furniture could be constructed from fewer pieces and did not need any complex joints. Michael Thonet, Chair No. 14, 1859 In 1853, he opened a factory, Gebruder Thonet, in Vienna.
There he focused on designing flat-pack furniture that was assembled after arriving at its final destination. In 1859, these ideas combined with the needs of Viennese café culture to culminate in his most significant design, Chair No. 14. This light, durable chair is made out of six components. It was affordable and attractive, so much so that it is still in production.
It has inspired many other chairs. Alessandro Mendini created Re-Thonet in 1978. Alessandro
Mendini, Re-Thonet, 1978 With this chair, he is celebrating Michael Thonet as the last great innovator in chair design. He honors the chemistry and science behind the bentwood process with the amoeba/atom form adorning the back.
Wulf Schneider, Model 290F, 1998In 1998, In 1998, Wulf Schneider designed Model 290F for Gebruder Thonet. It is composed of three pieces, one of bentwood and two of plywood. The seat is even the off-cut from the back/back legs. It was heralded as a green innovation, but is it even as green as the original? The form of the front legs/arms prevents it from being flat pack and the connections are far more substantial than No. 14.
I recently ran across this piece, 002 by Jaroslav Jurica. He designed it as a competition entry to celebrate the 150th anniversary of TON (the current name of Jaroslav Jurica, 002, 2011Gebruder Thonet) and the manufacture of bentwood furniture. His concept is meant interconnect old bentwood technology with a new approach to design. This chair is only 2 bentwood pieces (which are based on the same mold) and a plywood seat. Chair No. 14 is inspirational in many ways. Its form, its technology, and its early green aspirations come to mind. We can learn a lot from a chair that is as relevant today as it was when it was introduced in 1859.