The Thonet Bentwood Chair

I wonder if Michael Thonet had any idea of the longevity of his Model 14 bentwood chair design, when it was released in 1859? He was experimenting with bending woods and was looking for simpler and more economic means of production than the traditional methods. He discovered that a solid piece of steamed wood and a metal strap could be bent together in a certain way without cracking the wood, and after being dried out in a jig the wood held its shape. A strong chair could thus be made with less pieces and less joints, with screws replacing glued connections. This process also lent itself to economical mass production.

The Thonet bentwood chair consists of only six components (plus a few screws and nuts) and the design has remained virtually unchanged for nearly 150 years. The chair is simple while still being interesting, lightweight but very durable, and this combination has made it a favorite chair at cafés and restaurants since the 1860s. It was also popular with artists. Auguste Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec both featured Thonet chairs in their paintings and drawings, and Pablo Picasso had one in his studio.

Michael Thonet’s company has now passed through five generations of his family and Thonet bentwood chairs are still popular today. As you can see below, over the years other artists and designers have discovered ways to modernize up this iconic chair.

 Original Thonet via The Old Cinema, Pink Thonet via ABC Carpet and Home, Thonet with Socks via The Design Files, Patterned Thonet via Name Design Studio, Thonet history via Patrick Taylor

Then & Now: Knoll Tulip Chair

We have a rustic wood kitchen table in the dining area of our kitchen. I believe my mom found it at a flea market and it lived in my brother’s room for years until I needed a kitchen table in NY. I’ve been working to strip the paint off of and finish the matching chairs, but slowly a change of heart set in. 

Wood and the Knoll Tulip chair. There aren’t many things more striking and in such wonderful balance of one another. I’ve been looking for my own set to pair with our sweet country table. If nothing else, they will be a comfortable improvement to the folding chairs we have now.

You probably have heard of, or at least seen, the Tulip chair before. It was designed in 1955 and 1956 by Eero Saarinen for Knoll. Since then there have been many reproductions and I recently found this most intriguing update by Jeorjia Shea; a hand drawn reproduction Tulip chair. 

If you are looking for a vintage Knoll Tulip chair, manufactured in the US, I read here that you should look for BR51 stamped in the base. Never fear if the vintage ones you find are a little out of sorts, there is hope for restoration. The reproduction Tulip chairs are pretty darn close looking to the Knoll design and since Knoll has also been manufacturing the design since the 50’s, it would be quite easy to mistake a reproduction or a more recently produced chair for its original mid century predecessor.

Wood and Tulip Photo 1 and Photo 2, Vintage Eero Saaranin Tulip chairs by Knoll, Hand-drawn reproduction Tulip chair by Joerjia Shea, Tulip Chair DrawingEero Saarinin photo.