Celebrating an Iconic Design: Bentwood Chair

History of Thonet Bentwood chair

Some designs are so iconic they transcend time, like a Chanel tweed jacket or a Coca-Cola bottle. This definitely applies to one of the most popular chairs of all time (and a favorite of ours): the bentwood chair, also known as a Thonet (TOE-NET). And whether you know it or not, chances are you’ve sat on one plenty of times in your life, especially if you’ve ever ventured into a coffee shop or two.

History of Thonet Bentwood chair

The History

The bentwood method of furniture making was developed by German-Austrian cabinet maker, Michael Thonet (1786-1871). After much experimentation, the skilled craftsman developed an entirely novel method of creating designs with wood by bending it with steam. His distinctive furniture designs were simple and graceful — and quite the departure from the heavy, carved designs of the past.  

Thonet’s first successful and wildly popular bentwood chair, originally called Model No. 14 and dubbed the “chair of chairs,” was a first step in modern design and revolutionized industrial production. Its lightweight, minimalist design and economy of materials meant that it could be mass produced and exported to nations all over the world, earning Thonet a gold medal at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. Before long, patrons in fashionable cafés across Europe were perched on bentwood.

The master craftsman and his sons opened several factories across Europe and began producing a variety of furniture styles all using the bentwood process. Their company, Gebrüder Thonet, changed hands, but their classic designs are still sold today.  

History of Thonet Bentwood chair

The Legacy

While Thonet’s signature café chair is ubiquitous in restaurants and coffee shops all over the world, it looks even better at home. Our Kerry Dining Chair is based on the original bentwood design, and thanks to its classic origins, it fits in any space, from modern to traditional.

The bentwood style inspired our ever-popular, X back Constance Side Chairs. Its simple design means it plays well with others, which is a good thing, because we love to mingle different types of chairs at the same table. Pair them with a couple of upholstered (OR SLIPCOVERED?) chairs for a chic look.

History of Thonet Bentwood chair

But don’t think of bentwood chairs as merely for dining. They make great office chairs and are perfect as accent seating in the living room.

What could be better than a classic bentwood chair? A bentwood stool! Our Constance Barstools and Counter Stools set the right tone pulled up to an island or bar, and they make it easy to mix and match seating across living spaces. We think Thonet would have approved.

History of Thonet Bentwood chair

While we’re not quite sure what Thonet would have thought about his beloved bentwood reimagined in metal, we love the industrial vintage look in traditional and modern spaces alike.

For more design inspiration, visit our Pinterest Boards, or find more gorgeous rooms in our Photo Gallery.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.