Michael Thonet: Revolutionizing Furniture Design

CEO Khai Intela
Rocking Chair, Model 1, ca 1860 Brooklyn Museum "Chair no. 14" ("Konsumstuhl Nr. 14") from 1859 In the world of furniture design, one name stands out as a true pioneer and innovator: Michael Thonet. Born...

Michael Thonet Rocking Chair, Model 1, ca 1860 Brooklyn Museum

Michael Thonet "Chair no. 14" ("Konsumstuhl Nr. 14") from 1859

In the world of furniture design, one name stands out as a true pioneer and innovator: Michael Thonet. Born on July 2, 1796, in Boppard, Germany, Thonet revolutionized the industry with his invention of bentwood furniture. His creations were not only aesthetically pleasing but also practical and durable.

A Trailblazing Career

Thonet's journey as a cabinet maker began in 1819 when he established his own cabinetmaking business. He married Anna Grahs, and together they had several children. Thonet's experimentation with glued and bent wooden slats in the 1830s led to his first major success, the Boppard layerwood chair in 1836. This breakthrough propelled him to acquire the Michelsmühle glue factory in 1837, enabling him to produce his innovative designs.

Thonet's true breakthrough came with the development of a technique to bend wood using hot steam. This allowed him to create lightweight, graceful, and comfortable furniture that deviated from the heavy, carved designs of the past. His creations quickly gained popularity and became fashionable pieces sought after by many. Notably, his chairs caught the attention of Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, who invited Thonet to showcase his furniture at the Vienna court.

As his success grew, Thonet moved his family to Vienna and collaborated with his sons on various projects. In 1853, he transferred the company to his sons, and it became known as Gebrüder Thonet. Thonet's international breakthrough came in 1851 when he received a bronze medal for his Vienna bentwood chairs at the Great Exhibition in London. The silver medal followed at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

One of Thonet's most iconic creations is the chair no. 14, also known as the "Konsumstuhl Nr. 14." This chair, introduced in 1859, became a symbol of his innovative bending technique, allowing for mass production and easy assembly. It became immensely popular, with over 50 million chairs produced to this day.

Thonet's Enduring Legacy

Thonet's success paved the way for his company to expand globally. More bentwood furniture designs followed, with some becoming iconic pieces in design history. The range included the rocking chair no. 1 from 1860, the no. 18 and no. 56 models of the late 19th century, and the elegant no. 209 with its curved armrests, adored by architect Le Corbusier. Each design showcased Thonet's dedication to both aesthetics and functionality.

In the following years, Thonet's family established multiple production sites across Central Europe, solidifying their dominance in the furniture industry. Today, TON, a Czech company, operates the oldest functioning Thonet factory in Bystřice pod Hostýnem, which was built according to Thonet's original plans. Thonet's legacy continues to thrive, offering a collection that includes the famous bentwood furniture, Bauhaus-era tubular steel classics, and contemporary designs by renowned architects and designers.

Thonet Today

Michael Thonet's legacy lives on through Thonet GmbH, headquartered in Frankenberg, Germany. Under the leadership of Thorsten Muck, the company continues to uphold the values of high-quality, innovative, and elegant furniture. Michael Thonet's direct descendants, spanning five generations, remain actively involved in the business, ensuring the continuation of his vision.

The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna houses the largest collection of original Thonet chairs in Austria. It serves as a testament to Thonet's enduring influence on furniture design.

Conclusion

Michael Thonet's contribution to the furniture industry cannot be overstated. His innovative use of bentwood, along with his dedication to combining aesthetics and functionality, revolutionized furniture design. Thonet's creations continue to inspire and influence designers to this day. Through his pioneering spirit and timeless designs, Michael Thonet forever left his mark on the world of furniture.

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