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A Brief History of Thonet's Bistro Chair

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 26 April 2017
German company Thonet was founded by German-Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet – it became the pioneering brand for bentwood furniture and was the first to develop an industrial-scale production process for these pieces. Probably the most famous of all is the ubiquitous No 14 chair, or colloquially known as the bistro chair, found in cafes the world over. Listen to Alex Newson, senior curator at London’s Design Museum, reveal the story behind this world-famous icon.
Thonet exhibition in the Architektenkammer NRW, Düsseldorf | © Thonet
Thonet exhibition in the Architektenkammer NRW, Düsseldorf | © Thonet

The chair was first introduced in 1859 using steam-bending technology, and fast became the most popular design manufactured during the 19th century due to its simple, timeless design and affordable price point – around 50 million chairs were sold between 1859–1930.

The chair was widely revered by other designers and architects – Le Corbusier famously said ‘Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created.’ It was also awarded a gold medal at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris.

Even now it’s still a classic, with Thonet producing the design to this day.

Courtesy of Thonet