The Origin Of The World’s Favourite Chair

When you walk into a nice cafe just about anywhere, the decor is bound to be pleasant and create a sense of comfort that will envelop you as you dine. Your table is ready and the wait person guides you to sit down, pulling back the chair for you. You might even notice that the chair itself is a work of art, with a delicate curved back made of fine wood. You’ve seen this type of chair before, nearly every cafe uses them because of their old-time charm and modern convenience!

We are talking about authentic bentwood chairs, a timeless style dating back to the 19th century and still in use today! Their elegantly curved backs and smooth wood have ensured their place in the hearts of cafe owners and customers ever since. It’s hard to believe now, but when they first appeared they were considered to be a revolutionary step in design, strikingly different from the heavy, straight lines of the furniture that proceeded them.

The bentwood chair was the invention of a German-Austrian cabinet maker named Michael Thonet who was working in Vienna during the 1850s. He called his first-ever bentwood chair “Model 14” and to his pleasure and surprise it quickly rocketed to fame! The chair, which was unlike any ever seen before, won the furniture design gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1867, and was dubbed “The chair of chairs” by the adoring populace!

Thonet passed away not long after in 1871, but was happy he had lived to see so much success, and that his innovative creation would continue on past his lifespan, as it has done to this very day! Bentwood chairs are still being manufactured using Thonet’s techniques, keeping his classic style alive and in use, thanks not just to their pleasing aesthetic, but for their high durability.

So, what is the secret to making bentwood chairs?

Thonet experimented heavily with steam techniques to soften wood, enabling him to bend and shape it into forms that nature had not intended! After the wood had been steamed and bent into shape it was allowed to cool, and once it was dry it fortunately held its new form! No one had ever seen anything like it, and Thonet knew he had discovered something special.

Even in today’s world, with so many other interesting, and even provocative furniture designs available, the bentwood chair stands out in the crowd. Its sweeping, yet gentle curves make the chair one of the first and best examples of an ergonomically designed piece of utilitarian furniture. The seat, back, and arms are as comfortable to the human form as they are aesthetically pleasing.

After his death, Thonet’s sons kept his legacy alive by continuing to manufacture their father’s amazing chair. Bentwood chairs, and other types of furniture bearing the name made with the same groundbreaking techniques, were being constructed in factories all across Europe to keep up with the continuous demand- Europe has a lot of cafes, and they all wanted bentwood chairs!

Bentwood chairs use an economy of materials and labour since there is no need to cut out several curve-shaped sections of wood from a large, rectangular piece of timber, making them easy and cost-effective to manufacture. Chairs made using the bentwood method are a favourite with restaurants, bars, bistros, and cafes, and their popularity only continues to grow! They are highly durable in their construction, very comfortable, and are considered to lend a touch of class to any establishment that employs them. So, the next time you walk into a cafe and see the graceful curve of your chair’s back, you will know you get to sit in an award-winning bentwood chair!

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