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Bentwood Furniture, the dawn of mechanisation.

July 19, 2017

Bentwood Furniture, the dawn of mechanisation.

Most people are familiiar with the bentwood chair, we have probably all sat on one in a favorite cafe, here in the UK or in most countries all over the world.

The history of these humble but well designed chairs began in Boppard on the Rhine in the 1830s by Michael Thonet, born in 1796.

Thonet was a progressive designer of furniture, its manufacture and design. The first examples of bent-wood technology were produced around the year 1830. These were constructed with strips of timber glued together and bent to form elegant curves and screwed together instead of being jointed.

The original designs were based on the familiar dining chairs of the period from 1820 to 1830. Consisting of scrolling arms and sabre legs that were constructed to be one continuous element, this curving to make stretchers and continuing up to become the scrolling back, linked by curved splats. Resulting in an innovative twist on a traditional form.

The next step was to develop the method of bending whole sections of beechwood around metal forms with hot steam, this proved to be very successful and was the beginning of the wholesale manufacture of a vast range of furniture. 

Thonet moved production to Vienna and there produced the elegant Cafe Daum chair, a design that is still availiable today.  Very soon factories were opening in what was then the rest of the Austro Hungarian Empire, ending up with 52 factories owned by the Thonet family all over the world. 

The patent on bentwood expired in 1869, and Michael died in 1871.  The production was then also taken up by other companies, which went on to develop and modernise designs, using curved laminated wood for seats and backs.  

One  of these companies was 'Kohn' run by brothers Jacob and Josef.  The Kohn example illustrated can be seen at Top Banana and was designed by Gustaf Siegal in the early 20th century.  This rocking chair displays the influence of the Vienna Secession in the pattern of the curving back.







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