The most popular chair in the world celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2009: the Vienna Cafe chair 214 by Thonet.
This classic item will never go out of style: Thonet originally developed the “Vienna Cafe chair” as model No. 14 in Vienna. Today it is one of the most popular chairs worldwide. Anywhere from Paris to Budapest, the 214 is considered “the chair of chairs.” The chair is at home in all sort of facilities, private residences, in countless cafes and restaurants.
When Michael Thonet first introduced his “consumer chair number 14” in Vienna in 1859, he had no idea that his design would become the most reproduced chair of all times. Made from solid bentwood the chair has been in production ever since—nonstop. To this date more than 50 million originals have been sold, not counting the numerous copies of this classic piece of furniture. Known today as the “214” the chair is still made by Michael Thonet’s descendants at their headquarters in Frankenberg in the north of Hesse, in Germany. Thonet established the world-renowned business in the 19th century.
Basically the chair consists of only 6 elements, held together by a few screws. A special bentwood technique is applied. The simple and elegant design and its high functionality make it an attractive lightweight. With its easy and space saving packaging the chair was shipped all over the world: a single box of one cubic meter held 36 disassembled chairs. They would be assembled at their destination—in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. This gave Thonet the reputation as a pioneer of industrial design. Today’s 214 is considered the most successful industrial product around the world: It marked the beginning of the history of modern industrial furniture.
The name “Thonet chair” is reminiscent of its creator, the Austro-German master carpenter Michael Thonet (1796-1871). The pioneer of furniture design is also the founder of the industrial bentwood technique. He developed this special wood processing technique and patented it in 1841. It did not take long for this piece of furniture, made from beech wood that was first steamed and then bent, to garner fame. Thanks to the procedure the material becomes rather elastic, so that it can be bent and shaped. There are seemingly endless ways to create elegant bents. Chairs, sofas, tables and smaller items of furniture could now be conceived in a whole new way.
According to legend, the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower in Paris had not been furnished yet, when one chair fell 57 m from the tower—and remained intact after the fall.