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.
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.
Compare Thonet's design (above) to a traditional chair from the Renaissance period (below)
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
As a result of this invitation, Thonet family
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
a coat rack
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 abc.net (Australia TV)
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).
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.
I am glad I bought a thonet rocker. Hope it stays with us for years to come.