A Short but Sweet History of the Bentwood Chair

bentwood chair

Most people can spot a Bentwood chair a mile off because of its smooth sinuous curves. However, while we take this iconic chair for granted, when it was first introduced in the late 19th century it caused quite a stir and revolutionised the furniture industry.

Who invented the Bentwood Chair?

The Bentwood chair was designed by Michael Thonet, who was a cabinet maker in Austria in the 1850s. What was to be the first of many designs, was simply called ‘Model 14’ although it is commonly referred to as the ‘Vienna’ chair. It came to be regarded as ‘the chair of chairs’ and was rewarded with a gold medal at the World Fair in Paris held in 1867.

Thonet, unfortunately, died just a few years later, but his revolutionary chair carries on today. Nowadays, Bentwood-inspired furniture manufacturers still use the same technique that Thonet used back in the day. In fact, the Bentwood style of manufacture still outrivals many of its modern counterparts in terms of sturdiness, beauty, and structure which is one of the reasons that it’s such a popular chair in cafes and bars.

How are Bentwood chairs made?

The name itself is a bit of a clue since a Bentwood chair is made from wood that has been bent into curves. Thonet discovered that a combination of heat and moisture softened the wood and made it more pliable so that it could be bent into different shapes. Once dried, the wood hardened and kept its new shape for years to come.

While different woods can be used, arguably the best types of wood are ash and beech because they bend easier and unlike other types of wood don’t crack.

What caused so much excitement in the furniture industry, however, was that Bentwood chairs could be mass-produced and soon they could be found all over the world. People would receive delivery of the Bentwood chair in 6 pieces and only a couple of nuts and bolts were required to put it together. Sound familiar? We’re not sure if this is where the idea of flat-pack furniture originated from, but it was certainly a great business idea either way.

There have been several interesting people that have owned Bentwood chairs including Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and Joseph Stalin. Even though more than 80 million Bentwood chairs have been produced, the interesting thing is that no two chairs are ever identical because different sets of timber are used for each chair.

Here at Cafe Furniture, we stock a variety of Bentwood-inspired chairs together with many other styles of cafe chairs, stools, and tables. Why not browse our online store or visit our showroom to view the quality of our affordable commercial furniture.