When Michael Thonet first introduced his bentwood chair (the '14' now knowntoday as the '214' chair) in Vienna in 1859, little did he know that he had created what would become the first mass-produced chair in the world. Since then thissolid bent wood chair has been in continuous production with over 50 million chairs produced to date. Developed specifically to appeal to - and be affordableby - broad levels of the population, it was to launch Thonet's international reputation in the 19th century. Today, the company is run by the fifth generation of the Thonet family, direct descendents of Michael Thonet, in Frankenberg in North Hesse, Germany, Thonet's head office.
Six Components and a Handful of Screws
The 214, the "coffee-house chair" became the first flat-pack chair. This revolutionary process enabled the chair to be constructed from six components and a handful of screws. As a result it was easily shipped all over the world and assembled on site in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa.Today the 214 chair is the most successful industrial product in the world, and is the reason why Thonet is regarded as one of the pioneers of industrial design.
New and Simple Aesthetic Appeal
With its simple, unfussy shape and high level of functionality, the chair's introduction also saw the beginning of a new aesthetic appeal. Homes, cafes and restaurants suddenly looked quite different - lighter, and lessopulent. Michael Thonet revolutionised the furnishing world of his day, since the new chairs were inexpensive and could be afforded by the broad masses. The quality was- and remains - so good that the chairs survive for generations. Many of the chairs produced in the 19th century are still in use today.
Timeless, sensuous, perfect - what people have to say about this "chair of chairs": Although the 214 chair has inspired many architects and designers, the design has neverbeen beaten. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier confirmed that "... this chair, millions of which are to be found on the European mainland and in both Americas, has class." The Danish designer Poul Henningsen once said that if ever an architect produced a chairt hat were five times as expensive, three times as heavy and just one-quarter as beautiful, then he would undoubtedly make a name for himself by doing so. According to the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza: "An old person or a child can easily carry it..... It is stilla chair that looks like a chair. It is the chair." The French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec write: "The subtle harmony of its shapes, created by the pioneering method of bending wood, have made the chair a timeless classic. ....."