The "Chair of Chairs" : Why this 1859 chair is so important today

Hello again and welcome to

Welcome to What’s in a Name Wednesday!

Where we take a look at some of the best known names in Design and inspect what makes them stand the test of time.

Last week we looked at the Ghost Chair - the 21st century redesign of the 18th century Loius XVI chair. This week we are examining a chair that has been around for over 150 years that is often over-looked due to the fact that - well, it's EVERYWHERE. With an all-time sales record of 50 million in 70 short years, at this point it almost fades into the background as "a basic chair".

Take a look at the No. 14 Thonet Bistro chair.


In 1859, when this puppy was released, the prevalent furniture style was Victorian which included bastardizations or "revivals" of pretty much every other style throughout history - with a few added carvings and frills for good measure. With Victorian, more was more and heavy meant quality. Utilizing technology gained from the Industrial Revolution to make a design that was lightweight, easily mass-produced, efficiently shipped and very affordable, Mr. Thonet (pronounced Thoe-nay) created a design that is widely considered to be the most successful mass-produced product in the world to date. That's quite an accomplishment. He threw the old paradigm of a "chair" straight out the window with No. 14. First, it is made of beechwood that is bent to graceful curves using steam - so it includes none of the heavy carving and ornamentation so de rigueur in furniture at the time. Second, the Bistro chair can be easily mass-produced and is literally comprised of only six pieces of that steam-bent wood along with ten screws, and two nuts. Third, because it could be shipped unassembled, it saved a huge amount on cost, which, combined with the first 2 elements, meant that it could be sold at a price that was affordable to the masses - a first for designer furniture. It also had a woven cane seat that allowed for it to be used outside in bistros - hence its second name.

You will doubtless come across this chair in the next few days now that you know what you are looking for and know why it is so important - take a moment and appreciate the history that is included in that simple bent wood frame.

 "Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created." -Corbusier

A few awesome links about the No. 14:

*As Colton said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In 2009 James Irvine, a celebrated product designer, reinterpreted the No. 14 Chair to deliver the beauty of Thonet to the next generation. He did a pretty good job - enjoy his version, the 214 Chair, next to the original below.

muji thonet 1
muji thonet 1

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All my best to you – create spaces you love so much they actually love you.