Chair 14 “Chair of Chairs” (1859)

Chair 14 is also known as the “Chair of Chairs”. Designed in 1859, by the German-Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet, it is an enduring design classic and it is belived to be the very first product of modern industrial design.


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About chair 14

Michael Thonet experimented over the years to create the first mass-produced chair that could be sold at a reasonable price (cheaper than a bottle of wine). His ambitions were particularly daring. Alice Rousthorn writes in the New York Times:

“When the No.14 was launched in 1859, it was the first piece of furniture to be both attractive and inexpensive enough to appeal to everyone from aristocrats to schoolteachers. By 1930, some 50 million No.14s had been sold, and millions more have been snapped up since then.”

Michael Thonet chair balance

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Bentwood chair is also known as bistro chair. Its construction consists of six pieces of beech that are heated with steam, pressed into curved cast iron molds, and then dried to the desired shape. Later versions had two diagonal supports added on each side to help secure the seat and backrest.

214 Bentwood chair, 1859

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What makes the chair No.14 so special?  First, this chair satisfies its predetermined purpose, as every well-designed object must do. Second, it looks and feels outstanding.  The German furniture designer Konstantin Grcic said:

“It’s one of the most beautiful chairs there is, and it has exactly the right weight. When you pick it up, it feels perfect. That’s an important aspect of chair design that’s often overlooked.”

Thonet chairs are still widely used today and are considered to be some of the most popular chairs ever made. More than 180 years after their inception, Thonet chairs can be found in several restaurants, cafes, bars, bistros, boutiques and homes around the world.  Bentwood chairs have belonged to many famous people: world leaders, artists, scientists and many others, such as Albert Einstein, Joseph Stalin, Pablo Picasso and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. In fact, in Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rouge”, you can clearly identify two Bentwood chairs in the painting.

At The Moulin Rouge, Toulouse Lautrec.
At The Moulin Rouge, Toulouse Lautrec.

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Industrial Design and Mass Production

During the 1851 World’s Fair in London, England, Thonet received a bronze medal for his Viennese Bent Wood Chairs. His fame continued as an international breakthrough and he was awarded a silver medal at the next World’s Fair in 1855 in Paris, France for his famous No. 14 chair. The Bentwood Chair. Production methods were improved and the demand for his chairs made it possible to acquire a new factory in Koricany, Moravia in 1856. Chair 1859 Nr. 14, also known as Konsumstuhl Nr. Chair # 14 or Coffee Shop # 14 is considered a Chair of Chairs. In fact, it is said that over 50 million chairs were produced prior to 1930. The Thonet chair is considered to be the very first mass-produced chair.

Steam bending wood in the Thonet workshop.

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How is it made?

The  Model 14 Bentwood Chair consists of only six components paired with a few screws and nuts. Initially, rejecting traditional methods and seeking more simple and economic means of production, Thonet used bent veneers glued together and held together in what is called “Jigs”. This had proved to be a labor intensive method, and in addition, the wood could only be bent in one direction. Adapting this method by additional cutting, twisting and ‘rasping’, Thonet was able to obtain 3-dimensional bends with oval sections. His search to eliminate the glue, which dissolved it hot, damp climates, led him to his revolutionary solution: a solid piece of steamed wood and a metal strap could be bent together without cracking the wood. When dry, the wood would retain the new shape.

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Thus, a stronger chair was made with less pieces, less joints and screws replacing the glue. In 1856, this modern and original process was patented by Thonet’s son, GebrA1/4der Thonet, and mass production ensued. The design has virtually remained unchanged for over 150 years. Classic and timeless, indeed.

What are its dimensions?

(42x52x92 cm)

Efficient packing of Model 214 components.

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Designer: Michael Thonet

Year: 1836 – 1840

Manufacturer: Thonet & CO. Boppard-am-Rhein, Germany

Material: Wood

Dimensions: H 84 × W 43 × D 52 cm × HS 46 cm

Bentwood Chair dimensions        

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