When Is A Chair Not Just A Chair?

Bentwood No. 18 chairThe answer to this lies in a quote from famous 2oth century architect Le Corbusier who stated “Never has anything been created more elegant and better in its conception, more precise in its execution, and more excellently functional.” In case you’re wondering to what he was referring, it was the iconic No. 18 Bentwood chair.

Michael Thonet designed the Bentwood chair back in 1859 and it’s hard to believe but it is still being manufactured today, and is in fact one of the company’s most successful commercial products. The Thonet bentwood chair was born out of a need for a chair that cold be simply assembled without lots of fiddly components and a huge workforce. The chair consists of just six component parts and a few screws and nuts, and in essence the design has remained relatively unchanged to this day.

Revolutionary new technology

The chair came about by a revolutionary development in technology. Thonet discovered a new technique to bend wood. He found that by steaming beechwood for five hours it was then possible to bend it into curves before it dried and snapped. He made a chair that had a totally new selling point in that it came as a kit form. A bit like Ikea, you could say. This made it cheap to pack and ship overseas.

The No. 18 Bentwood chair was considered such a success because of its simplicity as well as the fact that it transcended fashion. Despite the fact that the No.18 design was over a 100 years old, Le Corbusier was of the opinion that the chair represented the modern concepts of humbleness, economy and durability.

Popular with artists

It was also a chair which was popular with other artists such as Renoir and Toulouse- Lautrecht who featured Bentwood chairs in their drawings and paintings. Pablo Picasso even had a Bentwood chair in his studio.

By the 1930’s 50 million Bentwood chairs had been sold worldwide and it’s now impossible to predict just how many Thonet-style chairs have been manufactured and distributed. Also referred to as the ‘bistro chair’ the No. 18 arguably has to be the most influential design in the history of furniture.

When other manufacturers are facing pressure to use sexy new materials to whip up a brand new design for a chair, the next time you’re sitting in your local café on a Bentwood No. 18 chair, then consider that you’re not just sitting on any old chair, you’re sitting on a piece of history.

Here at Cafe Chairs Melbourne we stock a wide range of replica Bentwood chairs which are sure to add a touch of charm and nostalgia to your café or bar. Why not browse our online store and take a look at these iconic chairs or if you need any more information give us a call on (07) 3205 1616 or pop into our warehouse at Brendale, Queensland and see them for yourself.