According to legend, the following incident happened during the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889: Michael Thonet’s chair no. 14 fell from the Eiffel Tower 57 metres to the ground – and survived the fall. The robustness of the chair – proven by more than just this remarkable incident – combined with its elegant, no-frills form and the revolutionary possibility for serial production contributed greatly to the unparalleled success of this chair. In 1862, the coffee house chair, known today as model 214, won the bronze medal at the London World Exhibition. By 1930, Thonet had sold 50 million chairs; to this day, the world’s most famous chair continues to fascinate. Over the decades Thonet has produced many different versions of this piece of furniture – in the beginning of 2015, the chair 214 was for the first time brought to market in the “Pure Materials” collection in regional ash wood.
Revolutionary in many aspects – a milestone of design history
The success story of chair no. 14 began in 1841 with an invitation from the Austrian House, Court and State Chancellor Clemens Prince Metternich, who had heard of Michael Thonet’s experiments with bent wood and invited the young man from Boppard in the Rhineland region to Vienna. Thonet soon succeeded in bending solid wood as well: long wooden rods were made flexible with pressure and steam and then bent into the desired form with special equipment and muscle power. The threedimensional forming of solid wood was a sensation at the time. Soon, orders for the Palais Liechtenstein and the Palais Schwarzenberg followed. Today’s iconic 214 quickly became a symbol of the Vienna coffee house culture. However, the chair’s enormous success was due not only to the constantly growing project business but also the innovative production process, which for the first time enabled the industrial serial production of chairs. It was a veritable milestone in the history of furniture production. Chair no. 14 could be produced in a work-sharing process and fully disassembled into just six elements. 36 chairs could be packed in a one cubic metre box, shipped to anywhere in the world and assembled on site. The history of modern furniture was underway. To this day, the original coffee house chair with model number 214 (formerly no. 14) is still produced by Thonet GmbH in Frankenberg, Hesse.
How to keep an icon alive – for example, with special materials
From the beginning, the chair was further developed by Michael Thonet and later by his descendants. Most recently, for example, a collection of simplified typified Thonet icons in tubular steel and bentwood was developed in cooperation with the Japanese trading company Muji, including an interpretation of the chair 214, designed by James Irvine (2008). In the beginning of 2015, the company presented its bentwood classic for the first time in the “Pure Materials” collection. The ash wood from regional forests used for this especially sustainable product line is intentionally only minimally treated, making the structure of the material a visual and haptic experience; individual hints of use appear after some time. The frames are available in a light oiled version or in a dark stained version refined with a protective natural wood lacquer coating. The seat also reacts with noticeable traces of use in the “Pure Materials” collection. In particular, the version with the naturally tanned quality leather “Olive Galicia” develops its very own patina over the course of time. Depending on the customer’s preference, the model from the new collection is also available with the classic wicker cane or netting.
A glance is enough: the original is literally branded!
By the way, a glance is enough to see whether you are holding a genuine 214 in your hands. On the bottom of the seat frame of every Thonet chair – historical and contemporary – has a branded signet of the company with the production year. Newer models can also be identified by the trapezoid seat. Thonet replaced the original round seat in 1960 with this clearly more comfortable version.
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Claudia Neumann, Anne Polch, Hanna Reif
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