Michael Thonet

Vienna Cafe Chair

Carroll Gantz
Thonet, Michael
Vienna Cafe Chair

The Vienna Café chair No. 14 is probably the most successful example of Thonet bentwood furniture. Certainly it is the most simple and prolific. It was produced starting in 1859, as a "chair for mass consumption," and by 1930, more than 50 million had been produced. It is assembled from six pieces of wood held together with screws and nuts, with a caned seat. Gebruder Thonet, the Austrian company founded in 1853 by German cabinet maker Michael Thonet (1796-1871) and his five sons, had 52 factories in Europe by 1900, making bentwood furniture. Other models of that era include the Rocking Chair # 10, produced since 1866, and a senuous reclining couch, Model No. 2, produced since 1885. All were designed by Michael Thonet. The Vienna Café chair No. 14 achieved a permanent place in modern design history when it was included in an innovative housing exhibit called L'Esprit Nouveau at the Paris Exposition Internationale in 1925. Virtually un-noticed at the time, the exhibit, designed by French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965--born as Charles Edouard Jeanneret Gris ) and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967), was an essentially bare and undecorated home interior, with metal file cabinets, bistro wine glasses, laboratory flasks as vases, industrial equipment, and commercial furniture (the Thonet chair) as part of the "decor". It was In fact, it expressed a complete rejection of decorative art, but within five years would greatly influence the direction of the modern movement, because of its emphasis on making the home a more efficient place, rather than the soon-to-be outdated emphasis on stylistic decor. Michael Thonet opened his furniture cabinetry workshop in 1819 in a rural Austrian town. By 1835, he was experimenting with a then-new technology of bending solid wood into chair parts, and by 1841, had patented his unique technique, characterized by flowing forms and the resultant lightweight product.

100 Years of Design consists of excerpts from a book by Carroll M. Gantz, FIDSA, entitled, Design Chronicles: Significant Mass-produced Designs of the 20th Century, published August 2005 by Schiffer Publications, Ltd.
Copyright Information: 
I own or have obtained the rights to the image(s) included with this article and grant industrialdesignhistory.com the right to post it(them) on its website and make use of it(them) in print media with proper attribution.