Design Museum

Back
Menu

Exhibitions

Chairs in production at the Thonet factory

LATE 1800s
Until the mid-19th century, most chairs were made by hand, but the new industrialists were experimenting with modern production techniques to manufacture high quality furniture swiftly and cheaply in large quantities. Among the most successful was the Austrian manufacturer Michael Thonet, who pioneered the mass-production of bentwood furniture. By the late 1800s, his simply styled chairs had become the first to be used by both aristocrats and factory workers.

Side Chair No. 14, 1870
Bent, solid and laminated beech, woven cane
Production: Thonet, Austria

Side Chair No. 14, 1870
Production: Thonet, Austria
Regarded as the most successful industrial product of the 19th century, the Thonet Chair No. 14 – nicknamed the ‘Consumer Chair’ – owed its popularity to cheapness, lightness and strength. Thonet struggled for years to produce a version of No. 14 which would be suitable for mass-production and succeeded in 1859. Early versions were glued together from laminated wood but, by 1861 Thonet succeeded in making the chair in solid wood with screws, not glue. Thonet continued to improve the design and, by 1867, the Consumer Chair could be made from six pieces of bentwood, ten screws and two washers. By 1870 the Consumer Chair was Thonet’s cheapest model selling for 3 Austrian florins.

Rocking Chair No. 1
Bent, solid and laminated beech, woven cane
Production: Thonet, Austria

Rocking Chair No. 1, 1860
Production: Thonet, Austria
The popularity of the Arts and Crafts movement encouraged the middle and upper classes to regard rocking chairs and other rustic styles of furniture with a new affection during the late 1800s. Despite its industrial ethos, Thonet drew inspiration from Arts and Crafts design in the styling of its products. The company developed its first rocking chair, the Rocking Chair No. 1, in 1860. Sales were slow at first, but Rocking Chair No. 1 and subsequent rockers steadily gained popularity and by 1913, one in every twenty chairs sold by Thonet was a rocking chair.ia

Chair No. 9
Bent, solid and laminated beech, woven cane
Production: Thonet, Austria

Desk Chair No. 9, c.1905

Production: Thonet, Austria
Developed by Thonet as a comfortable, inexpensive desk chair, the No. 9 – or Vienna Chair – went on sale in 1902. It attained iconic status when the architect Le Corbusier chose it to furnish his Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau (the Pavilion of the New Spirit) at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Le Corbusier justified his choice by explaining: “We believe that this chair, millions of which are in use… is a noble thing.? Architects flocked to Paris for the 1925 Exposition from all over the world and Le Corbusier’s pavilion was one of the most admired installations.

Copyright: Design Museum

Accessibility
Sitemap
Terms + Conditions
© 2006 Design Museum