Bentwood furniture

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Thonet’s design of the Bentwood chair had an enormous influence of the course of furniture design. Thonet was born in Prussia in 1796,he trained as a cabinet maker, and he developed steam bending of laminate wood. In 1842 he was granted an international patent to protect his methods from imitation. Once softened through immersion in steam or boiling water, the wood could be moulded into almost any shape with the help of a press.

A single piece of timber could be manipulated to form the back legs, uprights and top rail of a chair. Thonet’s process meant that furniture could be constructed from far fewer pieces and did away with the need of joints, simple screws and nuts would hold the parts together. In 1853 ,Thonet set up his own furniture company in Vienna that produced furniture that could be packed flat for shipping and assembled at it’s destination. Very quickly Thonet’s furniture was exported all over the world. His no.14 chair was developed for a local coffee house in Vienna, was so successful that before the turn of the 20th century 15 million had been made and sold throughout Europe. This was functional furniture for the masses rather than furniture as a signifiers of great wealth.

Thonet’s designs were simple when compared to the ornate decorated furniture of so much mid 19th century furniture. Le Corbusier included Thonet’s design in his exhibition,l’Espirit Nouveau, which established his rejdecorative decoration in favour of function. Thonet’s influence has endured well into current times, he precipitated Charles and Ray Eames’s mass produced office chairs, and of course, the modern flat pack industry.