life is complicated, it has radical ups and downs. we need more curves, they calm, they welcome us…. and a long lunch sometimes with a good friend, good cheese and a glass or two of wine.
i noticed at this cafe (where i was appreciating the company, and the fare, this week) that the chairs were all in the style of thonet’s 14. metal versions with vinyl seats, but here was thonet’s design, which was originally launched and sold millions in the mid to late 1800s in europe and america.
later the same day i watched the 2005 movie “pride and prejudice” (one of my favorites). there was nothing like this design in all the interiors. everything was elaborate, ornate, heavy- more so with the more affluent. i wondered how thonet managed to be successful with this design in the society of those times. and why, after 150 years, is it still popular? these questions brought me to today’s blog, and here are my answers.
6 basics that thonet’s chairs have – great for any chair design, but especially for dining chairs.
- it is curved – most of nature has curved lines. man’s inventions are most practically made with straight lines and sharp angles. maybe the curves are attractive because we need a break from the ups and downs of our man made days. there are many angular modern furnishings available today, but i find this style unwelcoming.
- the design is simple – the french and american revolutions, and the industrial revolution, were pushing away the need for everyone to prove that they were rich and upwardly mobile in society. class mattered less. increasingly, you could sit with a friend from any walk of life at a local cafe and have a meal together.
- it is radical – the simplicity and the new lines of the modern were, in thonet’s time, shocking. this is a good thing. we often need to be shaken out of our old ways, thoughts and patterns of living. otherwise there is no change.
- it is strong – thonet’s chair must have held up well to use, or he would not have kept selling them. when thonet’s bent beechwood proved to be weak in tropical climates, he worked on twisting the wood while it was being bent, and he bought the glue factory that supplied his factories so that he could improve the glue. many chairs these days are made of cheap, weak materials, weak at the joints, or the design just does not hold up to use. and now there is the problem of obesity. recently i was shopping for a new lounge chair for our deck and the label said, among other things about the care of the chair, “maximum load 300 lbs.” new challenge for chair designers!
- the seating can be replaced easily – the seat on thonet’s chair could be replaced and cleaned easily. the seats were solid wood or a woven grass. when similar chairs are covered with fabric, which will inevitably get dirty or torn in a dining setting, a new covering can simply be stapled on and seat reattached the chair. sounds like an unimpressive feature, but i have worked on many chairs that were a nightmare to repair or re-upholster.
- it is light – heavy furniture is made by people who never do any cleaning.