The Thonet No.14 chair (which is today sold as Thonet 214) has seated millions of people. It is likely the most successful industrial product of the 19th century,
and is most certainly a design icon. A simple object, it consists of only six pieces of bentwood, ten screws and two nuts.
The revolutionary bentwood was invented in 1836. It can only be produced by human hands because it requires a great degree of sensitivity to the difference in each piece of wood. Beech wood is steamed for 5 hours in order to soften it, after which the craftsman has only 3 minutes to shape the wood before it starts to break.
After years of bentwood experience, the Thonet chair No. 14 was invented in 1859 by Michael Thonet, and today it is produced by the fifth generation of the Thonet family in Frankenberg, Germany. The wood is still bent in the very same way as in the 1860’s.
By 1930, Thonet had sold 50 million No.14 chairs, and many more have been manufactured since then. Brahms, Lenin and Le Corbusier are among its admirers.
Just like the Wagenfeld lamp, the the No.14 fulfils, first and foremost, its designated purpose: to allow people to sit comfortably. Secondly, its natural materials feel good and the design appealed to a broad spectrum of people. Moreover, bentwood was very innovative at the time it was conceived. The small number of parts allowed for mass production and the timeless design has helped to sell this chair continuously for more than a century.
Some even claim that the older a Thonet No. 14 Bistro chair gets, the better it is. Due to the inevitable loosening of the screws, there is room for a slight bending of the wood, which makes the chair more comfortable to sit on.
Interestingly, there are currently three Thonet companies that offer slightly differing versions of the Thonet No. 14 from Germany, Austria and the United States. The following video shows you the Thonet No. 14 chair as it is made in Frankenberg, Germany, and provides you with more great insights about this chair.
If you now want to learn more about this chair, you should consider buying the book Thonet 14: History, Development and Imitations of the Best-selling Chair in the World by Giovanni Renzi.