In this installment of "Know Your Chairs," we are looking at a chair some of us may have overlooked since it is a staple of public seating: the classic Thonet No. 14 chair, also known as a "bistro chair" since it occupies a prominent place in many a Parisian café.
Its creator Michael Thonet (pronounced "toe-net" and not the French pronunciation "tho-NAY") was a German-Austrian carpenter and cabinet maker who, in the 1840s and 1850s, invented and pioneered the process of making bentwood furniture.
In 1859, he gave the world an exquisitely designed, simple, lightweight chair, the No. 14. Made of six pieces of steam-bent wood, ten screws, and two nuts, the chair was a miracle of engineering. The wooden parts were made by heating beechwood slats to 100 °C, pressing them into curved cast-iron molds, and then drying them at around 70 °C for 20 hours. The chair could be sold ans shipped in an early version of what we now know as a "flat pack." Later, the six-piece chair turned into eight as two extra braces were included for the join of the seat and the back.
The chair may have been created in the 19th century, but it looks fresh and clean even today. These next two photos pair the No. 14 with Saarinen tables and the look is perfect.
The chair takes on a slightly stately, classic, retro look when presented in a café or restaurant setting.
Here is the No. 14 with its side braces...they only serve to add a bit more curve-y elegance to the already elegant design.
The Thonet arm chair No. 09 has a more inviting sensibility with a curved side and a place to rest one's arm (seen here with a Saarinen table, again). This was a favorite of Le Corbusier (previously here) and he used it extensively in his modernist interiors throughout the 1920s.
Of course a Thonet rocking chair, known as Thonet No. 10, was invented as well.
Even Picasso had one in his studio!
Naturally there have been many variations on the chair with lovely iterations featuring different Arabesque shapes on the back. I love this display of original Thonet chairs in the Wien Musueum Karlsplatz, in Vienna.
The Thonet No. 14 is still available from the original Thonet company in Germany. There is another Austrian Thonet company that has nothing to do with the original as well as a splinter company here in the United States that seems to sell only modern modular pieces. But luckily, Design Within Reach is one of the official license holders and the No. 14 chair is available through them.