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The History of Bentwood Chairs


Bentwood Chairs

There is a timeless classic to Michael Thonet’s Bentwood Chair. Michael Thonet (often mispronounced "Tho-nay" the name is pronounced "toe-net" with a hard beginning and endingt) designed the No. 18 Thonet chair in 1876 and is still today seen through café’s, restaurants, homes and other places. It is amazing that a chair that is nearly 150 years old in design is still one of the most famous chairs in the world.

My earliest experience of the No.18 Bentwood chair was in my grandparent’s home. Every summer, my parents would take my sister and I to our Grandparents house in the countryside in the Southern Highlands (south of Sydney) and I would recall seeing the aged bentwood chairs around the dining table. As I grew older I learnt that their parents had bought it for them when they moved into their first home. They have never owned another set of dining chairs since.

The Bentwood chair has efficient clean lines which contribute to its longevity throughout time. It is also made from a European Beechwood which is both strong and lightweight. The back structure of the chair is made from one piece of timber that has been steam bent into its shape. Having less joints and glue meant it was lightweight and more structurally sound as well. They are very easy to move around and also hard to damage.

The more I look out for this chair, the more I seem to be able to find it. Being common hasn’t been detrimental to this chair, rather I see it as a validation of a great and enduring design.

At a recent Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, his painting “At The Moulin Rouge” caught my eye. Why? You don’t even need to look closely to see the No. 18 Bentwood chair right in the middle of his painting!

Henri Toulouse Latrec

Since then, the chair has stuck around, evolving only with colours and the room it is placed in. here is a more modern example with a reverse dipped bentwood chair. It features the natural beech ‘socks’ of the white chair.

What is your favourite way to set these chairs?

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