Nov 28, 2009

Amazing Antiques ~ Bentwood furniture

Bent wood furniture adds a pop to the ambiance. It is an interesting twist to having usual rockers and chairs. To clear any doubts, Bentwood furniture is not made of CANE. It is actual wood and caning is done on the backing or the seat area. People often ask me if the rocker is made of cane. Not it is not!

I saw an ad for a bentwood rocker on craiglslist..and got floored. Could I resist buying one? no I couldn't. I bought this Thonet reproduction from a graceful old Lady in Marietta. It is an upholstered piece with a layers of plywood stripes bent to make the rocker.

Having bought this reproduction rocker, I researched for the original versions and its transition into modern design era. I bought this one recently (see below) from a couple. I am glad I bought both. Each piece has an individuality.

I would love to keep them both, I have to let the older one go due to space constraints..(sniff)..

Delving into history of bentwood furniture...
In 1830's, Michael Thonet and his sons were experimenting with this exquisite method of making chairs in their workshop in Boppard, Germany. Their first bentwood chair was released in 1850 and was called Chair no 1. Bentwood furniture was a huge success in those times because it broke free from the traditional furniture making methods. In those days, furniture was made with flat planks and pieces of wood and the joints were disguised by elaborate carvings. With the Bentwood design, Thonet introduced sleek, practical, inexpensive and refined looking furniture to the world.

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Compare Thonet's design (above) to a traditional chair from the Renaissance period (below)
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Thonet Moves to Vienna..
Despite their initial success, Thonet's company faced a lot of difficulty patenting this technology in Germany, great Britain and France. In 1841, Thonet met Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich at the Koblenz trade fair. The Prince was so impressed with Thonet's bentwood furniture design that he invited him to present his furniture ideas to Vienna’s royal family.The Vienna Royalty were known for patronizing art, music and other art forms during their reign.

As a result of this invitation, Thonet family worked on the interiors of the Palais Liechtenstein for the Carl Leistler establishment. In the meanwhile, several failed attempts to patent their design method and increasing financial difficulties forced Thonet to shut the workshop in Boppard and move his business and family to Vienna in 1942. Most of the other thonet classic chairs were produced in Vienna, hence the name - Vienna chair, although Thonet chairs have their origins in Germany.

Gebrüder Thonet was founded in 1849. In 1850 he produced his Nr 1 chair and the famous chair Nr. 14– also known as Konsumstuhl Nr. 14 was produced in 1859. This design became so famous as coffee shop staple, that it is still called the "chair of chairs". Here is the famous Konsumstuhl -14

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This chair was relaunched as chair number 214. Other pieces included cribs, day beds etc.


a coat rack
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Michael Thonet patented the bentwood method of furniture manufacturing in 1856. After the patent expired in 1870, two other manufacturers Mundus, Kohn and few other companies entered this business to produce their line of bentwood furniture. Another very interesting fact about thonet was that  - they were the first to produce and market Flat pack furniture, almost a few decades prior to IKEA's flat pack kits. It is a design marvel of sorts when this flat pack design was invented. Consumers raved about how a very sturdy yet sleek chair could be assembled with a few screws.

About the design...
Bent wood is basically steamed bent pieces of wood, for arms, legs and other supportive parts of the chair. Steamed wood is bent along with metal sheet and rod supports in place. Here is a video about Thonet's furniture (in french )


And a segment featuring Thonet chairs from a program called Roving Eye from (Australia TV)

These bent pieces of wood are used to make sleek, decorative chairs and other pieces of furniture. These furniture have been design magazines staple since its invention in the early 1800s.

Earliest models

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Any wood of choice was used to be soaked, steamed, molded and bent to make these furniture pieces. Beech was however considered an ideal choice. You must have seen a wide array of designs in bentwood furniture cafes or bistros.There have been metal and even plastic imitations of these chairs found in small restaurants and coffee houses across the globe. I am not drawn to these cheap imitations as they remind me of road side cafes in Hyderabad. They can never match the wooden versions

Most of the bentwood furniture from the 19th century was made in France, Poland and Austria at various Thonet factory locations and sold all over the world. Strategic mergers led to consolidation of Thonet and its competitors Mundus and Kohn. Mundus and Kohn merged in 1914 and later consolidated with Thonet in 1922.

Thonet is still the largest bentwood products maker and has expanded its product line with plywood and tubular steel furnishings. Post merger, Thonet has produced other classics including this Cantilever chair by Marcel Breuer. B32 Chair, 1928, made of Chromium plated steel, wood and cane.

A cantilever chair has no back legs and relies on the properties of the material from which it is made for back support. In fact, the chair challenges the concept of tensile strength (of a piece of furniture).

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Mark Stam, the designer of a similar tubular chair was awarded a patent for his design in 1932. There are, however conflicting versions of who invented this design. Mark Stam is said to have come up with the design for a cantilever chair as early as 1926. Here is what wiki says - Cantilever chair

As always there have been reproductions of this classic as well. I remember seeing one such chair in most government organizations in India.

Rockers have been a part of Thonet's product portfolio ever since they started the bentwood chair manufacturing . Coming to my rocker, it is called the Thonet rocker nr 10. It has been an exhibit in my university's college of fine arts department museum.

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I am glad I bought a thonet rocker. Hope it stays with us for years to come.

Nov 24, 2009

Profiling IKEA

In the early 1940's, Sweden was trying to foster a Welfare Policy and was inching towards becoming a Social Welfare State. Focus was shifting from the on-going war and a need to provide health and happy family living conditions to all in the country. Swedish government came up with subsidies for people to build well ventilated, practically designed homes; Thereby, triggering a demand for mass produced furniture and home goods.

The Scandinavian style furniture...
Scandinavian politics, cultures,languages and traditions led to the emergence of a multifaceted design philosophy in the early 1900's. By the end of mid century, these designs came to be known as a "style" from this region. In the meanwhile, the post depression era (late 1920's, 1930's-early 40's) saw  the Swedish urban middle class (in Stockholm) looking at quality of life in a whole new way. Market for clean "Scandinavian" looking furniture gained significant foothold at this very point in design history. Furniture and fixtures were slowly becoming a matter of utility rather than a luxury. Progressive thoughts and living conditions meant increased demand for furniture and home decor accessories. This was when IKEA began more as a cultural movement to provide quality affordable designs to all in the society.

IKEA incorporated...
In the year 1943, Ingar Kamprad, an enthusiastic 17 year old, began selling pens, nylon socks at low prices, door to door. (hmm this reminds me of a few other business magnets who started out this way - Gita Pramal's Business Maharajas!). He formed IKEA - adding first initials of his family’s farm (Elmtaryd) and his village (Agunnaryd) to his own initials. As the business grew, he started mail order services. Steady growth led to his foray into the then booming furniture production business in 1948.

Tracking IKEA's growth...
IKEA published it first catalog in 1951 while it was still a mail order company. First ever IKEA showroom was opened in Alhmult, Sweden, in 1953. Here is a picture of its first catalog and the subsequent ones. (Ooh! I love the retro looking picture.)

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Kamprad hired four Danish designers to form an in-house design team in 1956. One of his designers, Erik Wörts, worked on the flat-packed, Do-it-yourself assembly-required furniture suites, which is said to have revolutionized the furniture manufacturing and retailing industry. However, while researching for informaiton on Thonet, I found that they had devloped this flat pack shipping structure for their furniture way back in 1850's.

The year 1958 as a major milestone for IKEA when a 6700 Sq mts furniture superstore opened in Almhult, the largest in Scandinavia at that time. By the year 1960, new homes mushrooming across Sweden, and an increased demand for inexpensive furniture, contributed to IKEA's growth with in Sweden and then throughout Scandinavia. Another picture of the catalog from 1966.
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As of today, this $30 billion company has over 30 stores at various locations across the world. It is said that the brand's signature colours: Blue and yellow represent the company's roots in Sweden and its belief in Swedish values.
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My take on IKEA...
You must have guessed by now that I am among those ardent IKEA Fans. I just love the sweet cinnamon aroma which welcomes you as you enter the store.  The only IKEA store I have been to is the one in Atlanta. IKEA has a large fan base and an equally strong critique population.This company has come a long way from where it began in a small town in Sweden.

Critiques claim that IKEA "knocks off" a lot of American Modern design ideas from the Eames era. Given the Scandinavian design history and the fact that IKEA is native to Sweden. The whole claim is baseless because, it was not until the late 1950 that the Americas were introduced to this clean line design. I rest my case! :)

Things I like and I dont...
One of the simplest things I like about the store is their refusal to give away tons of flimsy polythene carry bags. They supply you with a huge blue HDPE bag for an additional cost if you are among the polythene carry bag addicts. I do not fancy this part of their sale strategy as HDPE bags are no less of a burden on the environment. Another aspect going well with the ECO strategy is their flat pack pack system of stocking and delivery and the use of minimal packaging material. Most furniture manufacturers of have adopted the flat pack system and this works well for people who have some assembling skills.

For mid century modern enthusiasts like me, IKEA brings in clean Danish and Scandinavian style furniture with in reach of an average middle class home. IKEA has always had a low-price version of every danish modern furniture model. One such piece I own is the Poang Chair. I was glad to now that the chair was designed even before I was born and was launched in 1976. It is still a popular customer pick, that speaks for itself. Here's the picture of my Poang and footstool.

This company supports quite a few new designers and their innovative ideas.  There is a short, interactive movie on IKEA's website which showcases each design story. All said and done, I have a few things I really have to disagree with. For example, their emphasis on having excessive stock piles across their locations, engineered wood. I have a few concerns about its impact on the environment through its lifecycle: manufacture, usage and disposal/recycling. Another major point of peeve, out sourced manufacturing from China and India etc.

IKEA has been facing criticism regarding child labour issues, and lawsuits concerning illegal logging. We cannot live in a perfect world, it is important that a company is accountable for its impact on the environment. Like any other company, IKEA claims to be following a stringent environment related policies. I am yet to finish my research on IKEA's vision of being eco-friendly.

Until next time...take care and keep those creative juices flowing

IKEA website
IKEA vintage catalogs (print)

      Nov 19, 2009

      My Design Choices

      My design style leans towards being Vintage Scandinavian/Danish with heavy Indian influences. My kind of decor may not pop out of an interior magazine or a design catalog. I love furniture from the mid century (1950's) with  few colourful accent pieces to break the monotony of clean lines. English country and cottage styles are not my cup of tea. Laces and floral don't work for me. When it comes to design and accessories for my tiny apartment, geometric patterns in a blend of primary pastels and earthy tones and indoor plants make me happy.

      Like anyone else, I love a cosy home with small artifacts adorning every nook and corner of the house.

      My sister -in-law (my hubby's sister) has been a major go-to-gal in my design choices. I admire her sense to pick real cool things to go with one's personality. Her keen eye for Indian Handicraft impressed me when I visited her house for the first time. It is but obvious that I ask for her opinion before make I some serious purchases, and then work my way into choosing things for my house. Another very creative person in the family is my brother's wife, i.e. my other Sister-in-law. She is a classical dancer, sculptor and an artist who works with various media, such as canvas, glass etc. One of her best pieces is a Lakshmi devi's Thanjavur painting she made a few months back. I intend to write about her work in the coming posts. As of now, before this post turns out to be "An Ode to my Sisters-in-law", let me get back to what I was intending to jot

      My affinity to danish furniture, minimalism, and mid century modernism is quite obvious when you walk into  our apartment.  I bought a bentwood (clean lines) lounge chair and ottoman from IKEA.  There is another adorable thonet's bentwood rocker as well. I have plans to dedicate an entire post to each of these exquisite furniture pieces in my future posts.

      Latest addition to my MCM mania were two really great wood and brass lamps. Here's one of them...

      We bought a cane sunroom set when we first moved into the apartment. It works well with the size and feel of the place. Another great thing about most of my furniture and fixtures is that they were bought on craigslist. I have a side table from Uttar Pradesh in India. It a beautifully carved piece made of Indian Rosewood (seesam) and brass inlays in beautiful hand carved patterns.

      Walls and corners are dressed up with Indian Handicrafts bought by my sister-in-law and/or me during our various visits to Melas and exhibitions. I framed a set of "Madhubani" paintings, originally meant to be greeting cards. I really love the Durga ma's face idol, a gift from my little brother for my first (post-wedding) dassera. It came all the way from Kolkata.

      I plan to dedicate a post to the set of accessories collected in the last six years of being married. Here is a peak into my living room.

      I started collecting small utility based handicraft items even before my wedding and most of those pieces are with my amma. However, my budget limit has increased compared to my earlier buys...guilty! 

      My kind of dream house would be a small cosy home with everything in the house having its place. Living in a clutter free home is like living in heaven. We need not fill them with expensive furniture and antiques or the latest electronic gadget, but our home has to reflect who we are and be a place where we can be ourselves and create wonderful memories with the family. Home is where the heart is, right!
      adding pinterest script 3. Changing the Position of the Pin it! button The cool thing about this code is that you have some freedom over where the Pinterest button for Blogger will go over the image. Take a look at the code that you just copied and pasted into the HTML for the word 'center'.