Thonet Inspired Chairs
Is it really conceivable to mention Michael Thonet and his Viennese chairs in the same breath as a collection of well-made, pretty little doll-house chairs from the late 1800s?
It certainly is – especially since these particular doll’s chairs feel and look like tiny copies of the world-famous café chairs in black bentwood that bear Thonet’s name.
While the backrest may resemble a simple loop, it nevertheless has an air of Neo-Rococo or Biedermeier about it.
Michael Thonet was a German cabinetmaker who lived between the years of 1796 and 1871. When he transferred ownership of his business to his five sons around 1853, the company acquired the name of Gebrüder Thonet (“Thonet Brothers”). Their chairs were known as Vienna chairs,
Viennese chairs or café chairs, and they were sold in prodigious numbers all over the world – not only to cafés but also to restaurants, shops and other establishments where people assembled. Back then, they were produced in black or brown, with a seat of painted wood or woven rattan. They were as much a part of the furniture in the little shoe shop down the road as they were in the dining-room of the celebrated Russian author Leo Tolstoy in his palatial home at Yasnaya Polyana.
It is said that more than 80 million such chairs were sold, so what could be more natural than to make sure that dolls, too, had somewhere they could sit in style when it was time for coffee? The chairs are certainly something that even future generations of children can admire, if only when they visit the toy department of a well-stocked museum.
One of the toy shops that used to sell these much sought-after miniature furnishings in the nineteenth century was WA Bandel on Västerlånggatan in Stockholm. Outside the shop you could see little girls with their noses pressed up against the window, gazing longingly at the 9–10 cm tall chairs with their matching sofa, footstool and table.
Many, many Thonet chairs were made in quantities beyond reckoning – most particularly the Number 14 model, which was shipped to every corner of the world in the mid-1800s. Not to speak, of course, of all the copies that also started to turn up here, there and everywhere.
Here is one such copy, lacquered in white, from a café that has long since disappeared. There’s something about it that’s vaguely reminiscent of Thonet’s Number 9 chair, don’t you think?
But it was undeniably Thonet’s Number 14 design that was the very first chair to take the entire world by storm and establish a reputation for itself as everyone’s firm favourite.
By Gun Bjerkander Handberg
A Note From The Editor:
Read more charming Historic Chair stories in one of two publications from the series Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell by author Gun Bjerkander Handberg.