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The Thonet Bistrot Chair is 150 Years Old

The Thonet Bistrot Chair is 150 Years Old

The Thonet Bistrot Chair is 150 Years Old

 

The No. 14 chair is the most famous chair made by the Thonet company. Also known as the bistro chair, it was designed by Michael Thonet in the 19th century, using a unique steam bent technology that required years to perfect. With its affordable price and simple design, it became one of the best-selling chairs ever made.

 

The No. 14 chair is widely regarded as a design classic. It earned a gold medal when it was shown at the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris.

 

The design of the No 14 chair was a response to a requirement for cafe-style chairs. The seat was often made of woven cane/palm, because the holes in the seat would let spilt liquid drain off the chair.

 

It was an inexpensive chair, costing a mere 3 schillings, the equivalent of 36 eggs. 20 years after its launch it became the most well known chair in the world. Light – one could carry 3 chairs at once – it was the ideal chair for theatres, restaurants, hotels and cafés.

 

How is one to explain the longevity of the No 14 chair? Its functionality is radical, the modernity of its lines are due to the genius of Michael Thonet. He invented a piece of furniture of utmost economy and the first mass produced object in the history of design. Thonet’s No. 14 is made of six pieces of steam-bent wood, ten screws, and two nuts, avoiding any off cuts.

 

The wooden parts were made by heating beechwood slats to 100 degrees Celsius, pressing them into curved cast-iron molds, and then drying them at around 70 degrees Celsius for 20 hours.

 

The economy in both material and energy was considerable. The chairs could be mass produced by unskilled workers and disassembled to save space during transportation. This principle of rationalization was applied to all steps of production.

 

The chair was sent unassembled in 1m3 boxes to all 4 corners of the world. Each box contained 36 chairs, which were assembled with the help of a few screws in Thonet’s branch offices. There, the wood could also be dyed to the wishes of the customer.

 

Thonet sold his chairs via catalogues, launching a totally new international production and commerce. Never before was furniture sold in this way. To satisfy the ever increasing demand, Thonet opened factories in the Czech Republic, where simple farmers each executed a predetermined task. Thus Michael Thonet invented, 50 years prior to Henry Ford, the concept of mass production. In many ways, Thonet is the ancestor of today’s Ikea furniture, combining production economies, easy assembly with an attractive design.

 

The No 14 chair became rapidly a legend. It was sent on cruise liners to the Americas, Asia and Africa. Brahm’s played piano on it, Lenin wrote his political and economic theories on it, and Marilyn Monroe sprawled on a Thonet No 14 chair in one of Billy Wilder’s films. In 1918 the Allied and German generals signed the armistice sitting on Thonet No 14 chairs in general Foch’s train restaurant car.  

 

The No 14 has been praised by many designers and architects, including Le Corbusier, who said "Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created."

 

In 2009, Thonet’s No 14 chair celebrates its 150’s birthday. Over 50 million copies were sold between 1859 and 1930 alone, and millions more have been sold since. Decorating cafés the world over, it is a silent testimonial of a whole century and a half of design history.

 

Chair No 14, today known as 214, is still produced by Thonet.  

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Added by:  Swissmiss

Date:  2nd Jun 09

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