Thonet is a major German design furniture company, one of the oldest in the world, world-famous for two things: bentwood chairs and Bauhaus furniture in bent tubular steel.
It was the company's founder, Michael Thonet, who invented the bentwood technique and thus created the first industrial chair in furniture history, the famous bistro chair n°214, in 1859. Mass-produced and delivered unassembled (and therefore much cheaper to ship), the 214 chair was a worldwide success, making Thonet the world's largest furniture manufacturer.
When, in the 1920s, the new generation of Bauhaus architects and designers were looking for a company to manufacture a new type of modern tubular steel furniture, Thonet presented itself as a natural solution. Thus were born the first cantilever chairs in curved metal tube, signed by the great names of the Bauhaus: Mat Stam, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
World War II destroyed everything. And in 1945, Georg Thonet, the founder's great-grandson, relaunched the company in a garage - in Frankenberg, in northern Hesse, where the current factory, once again prosperous and flourishing, is still located today [read more].
Today as in the past, Thonet furniture is part of the lives of many people around the world. Some appreciate them as classics steeped in history, others as everyday objects. They are found everywhere where people meet, in homes, waiting rooms, offices, cafes.
The history of Thonet begins with the work of cabinetmaker and carpenter Michael Thonet, who opened his first workshop in 1819 in Boppard/Rhine. Thanks to his innovative wood processing techniques, Michael Thonet produces new elegant shapes and acquires fame beyond his region of origin. Austrian Chancellor Fürst Clemens von Metternich convinces Michael Thonet to move to Vienna, where he participates in the interior design of the Liechtenstein Palace, expands his skills and builds a network. In 1849, Michael Thonet founded a company in Vienna, which he renamed Gebrüder Thonet in 1853.
The development of Thonet is inseparable from the café culture of the mid-19th century. One of the young company's first orders – the creation of chair no. 4 for Café Daum on the Kohlmarkt, a Viennese institution frequented mainly by aristocrats and the military – made Thonet furniture famous throughout the city.
Michael Thonet made his international breakthrough in 1859 with chair no. 14, known as the "Viennese café chair": the innovative technique of bending solid beech wood enabled quasi-industrial production for the first time. The chair was based on a modular principle and was delivered disassembled.
Around 1890, bentwood Thonet chairs were everywhere in Viennese cafes and restaurants. Members of literary modernism gathered in the Café Griensteidl because of the large selection of newspapers and sat on Thonet chairs no. 4. Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Arthur Schnitzler were regularly invited there.
In 1892, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec painted elegant ladies and gentlemen seated on Thonet chairs at the Moulin Rouge. In 1918, Henri Matisse staged Thonet n°20 in his “Interior with violin”, painted in Nice at the Hôtel de la Méditerranée.
In the 1920s, Thonet chairs were everywhere – whether in the Lido in Venice, in Fleming's Restaurant on Oxford Street in London, in the Kempinksi-Weinstuben in Berlin or in the Dammtor Pavilion in Hamburg, in ballrooms , casinos and large hotels.
In the Deutscher Werkbund magazine "Die Form", the architect Ferdiand Kramer reports, in a portrait of the Thonet company at the beginning of 1929, that the average daily production at the time amounted to 18,000 chairs, dominated by the very popular chair no. 14 (today 214).
Seventy years after the development of chair no. 14, Marcel Breuer created his first objects in tubular steel, published by Thonet from 1930. The classics S 32 and S 64 constitute an important link between the traditional technique of bent wood and modern bending of tubular steel. The Viennese wicker work recalls traditional craftsmanship, and the design that defines the space with its function (the cantilever chair initiated by Mart Stam) already indicates the direction to take for the future. With the S 35 steel tube chair, first presented in 1930 at the "German Section", an exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund in Paris, Breuer underlined the international importance of his designs.
As an architect in Berlin, Breuer furnished the homes of artists and intellectuals with this innovative furniture until the early 1930s. Modern artists, beyond the direct environment of the Bauhaus, became enthusiastic very early for Thonet furniture. Karl Hubbuch, a representative of the New Objectivity, repeatedly painted and drew his wife Hilde Isay with the new tubular steel furniture. Photographic self-portraits from her studio show her with a bentwood chair or Thonet nesting tables.
In the 1930s, the company was the largest producer of innovative furniture designed by famous avant-garde architects such as Marcel Breuer, Mart Stam, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Pérriand. The tubular steel furniture was manufactured using completely new production technology in the factory in Frankenberg/Eder, which has been the company's headquarters since the end of the Second World War. Today, the first models of tubular steel furniture are famous milestones in design history.At the end of the Second World War, Thonet lost its facilities in Eastern Europe following expropriations. From 1945 to 1953, Georg Thonet, great-grandson of the founder, rebuilt the factory in Frankenberg, in northern Hesse. Economic success did not take long to return, notably thanks to new products reflecting the times. From the 1960s, Thonet began collaborating again with famous designers, such as Egon Eiermann, Verner Panton and Pierre Paulin.
Today, steel tube furniture can be produced with less effort than bentwood furniture, which continues to be labor intensive. Tubular steel can be formed precisely and reliably by machines. The collection of tubular steel furniture is constantly evolving. Every generation can discover the appeal of Thonet originals. The materials, surfaces and colors of modernist classics are constantly reinterpreted.
The Thonet classics available today are not museum pieces, but rather living elements of collections, designed and refined for everyday use. Over the past decades, internationally renowned architects and designers, such as Stefan Diez, Lord Norman Foster, Alfredo Häberli, James Irvine, Naoto Fukasawa, Piero Lissoni, Glen Oliver Löw, Christophe Marchand and Hadi Teherani, have designed for Thonet .