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.

image source:

Compare Thonet's design (above) to a traditional chair from the Renaissance period (below)
Image source:

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

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


a coat rack
image source:

image source:

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

Image source:

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).

Image source; wiki
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.

image source:

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


  1. the last picture that you show - i had the same. but because it was taking a lot of space i gave it away

  2. Hi Anrosh
    Thats really sad :( post was actually inspired by the bentwood chair i bought from a lovely couple

    do keep stopping by, nice knowing you :)

  3. Very nice post. Never that there chairs can be a topic for researh :)

  4. thanks koyeli..crazy me...i have had such weird interests for ever now

  5. I am renting a furnished house that has what looks amazingly like Eame's chairs or the Gus Modern Chair. The chair is layers of wood veneer & is bent into the shape. Unfortunately, two of the chairs' legs broke and I can't find any bentwood chair parts. I have looked online and called suppliers and no one has any such items. Do you know of any place to buy the parts? I have included a link to what it sort of looks like: HELP!

  6. Hi Linda
    thank you for stopping by my seem to have an eames Lounge Chair Wooden (legs)or the famous LCW could try

    advanced interiors sells you may try contacting them,Alphaville,eames-molded/Detail.bok

    let me know if these links were of help...i ll have my eye open

  7. Hi! I have the same rocker as you- but it is red! It is stamped Thonet-- I'm reading up and trying to determine when it was made.. Any advice?

    1. Most chairs do not have a time stamp unless marked. if u could mail me the pic i could help

  8. Really appreciating idea's...these designs giving me great info for choosing better hotel furniture...keep it up...

  9. Great post. I have two narrow cafe stools with a partial label stuck to the bottom of one chair with the word Mundue and a partial country ending in "lia." I'M getting ready to list them on Craigslist for sale. I never realized how unique they were. Thanks for the history of the manufactures and designers

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment.Made my day


Thank you for your comment. You made my day!

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'.