The world’s greatest chair: the Thonet No. 14

thonet14.jpg

The International Herald Tribune has put up a fantastic write-up of what might possibly be the world’s most popular chair: the Thonet Model 14. Six pieces of wood — two circles, two arches, two legs — that screwed together have seated more plump, writhing buttocks than any other chair in history.

The No.14 was the result of years of technical experiments by its inventor, the 19th-century German-born cabinetmaker Michael Thonet. His ambition was characteristically bold. Thonet wanted to produce the first mass-manufactured chair, which would be sold at an affordable price (three florins, slightly less than a bottle of wine). Many of his rivals had tried to make similar chairs, but failed and, at first, Thonet seemed doomed to failure too. When his German workshop was seized by creditors in 1842, he moved his family to Austria and opened a workshop in Vienna, determined to try again.

Eventually Thonet succeeded. When the No.14 was launched in 1859, it was the first piece of furniture to be both attractive and inexpensive enough to appeal to everyone from aristocrats to schoolteachers. By 1930, some 50 million No.14s had been sold, and millions more have been snapped up since then. Brahms sat on one to play his piano, as did Lenin while writing his political tracts, and millions of us have perched comfortably on them in caf├ęs. Another admirer was the modernist pioneer Le Corbusier. “Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created,” he enthused.

No. 14: The Chair That Has Seated Millions [IHT via Treehugger]

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15 Responses to The world’s greatest chair: the Thonet No. 14

  1. oingoing says:

    Why is it so expensive now?

  2. Powerphail says:

    My grandma has a few of these. Awesome.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Didnt Wendy’s use these chairs for a long while? It was when they had the tables with old ads on them.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Le Corbusier was actually refering to the armchair variant (model 209) when he stated that. I am lucky enough to have 6 of those in my dining room, in red!

  5. BuildUupBuzzKill says:

    i am sittings #1 Fan… might even go as far as to call my self a sitting down superfan. I guess what im really trying to get at is… I stalk my own ass.

  6. Ryan Waddell says:

    I like to imagine that models 1-13 were totally non-chair-esque… Like model 1 was a cast iron plate with 15 super sharp spikes sticking up from it… “Oh, gee, that’ll never sell” etc etc… Yes, I have far too much free time on my hands to think about such ridiculous things.

  7. zikman says:

    I just found the perfect replacement for the cheap plastic ikea chair for my computer desk. I’ve been sitting in some garish, pint-sized throne that my sisters old roommate left behind after the ikea one broke a few months ago

  8. Anonymous says:

    Please, tell me where I can buy chairs like these?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Forgot to put my email address.
    ninapantera1@hotmail.com
    Looking for chairs thonet any style.
    Can’t find where to by them.

  10. SamSam says:

    #1: You’ll have to do the calculations. The chair described here had a 140 year jump on that plastic one.

    This article was also in the Sunday Time’s style magazine, BTW.

  11. mattofdoom says:

    My experience in the developing world causes me to guess that the “world’s most popular chair” would be those stacking plastic-molded jobs that Patrick Austin, Poster No.1, refers to. They get literally everywhere.

    The Thonet No.14 could be “History’s most popular chair”, I suppose.

  12. dculberson says:

    “In comfort” is up for debate. Certainly more comfortable than sitting on the ground, but not exactly an Eames lounger.

  13. dculberson says:

    AustinModern, I was referring to comfort alone, and nothing else. A tight wicker seat and two pieces of wood for the back aren’t actually all that comfortable, for a long-term sit.

  14. Austinmodern says:

    Apples to Oranges in regards to the Eames 670 lounge vs a Thonet 14 side chair.
    The 14 has definitely earned the designation of masterwork of modern design considering it’s age. As modern enthusiasts, we all oooh and ahh over 1940s and 1950s bentwood creations(rightly so), but give Thonet credit for creating a simple and elegant form 100 years before it was considered “modern”.

    We have had several Vienna mfg Thonet chairs in our shop over the years and I’m always blown away by the chairs staying power as well as the condition these chairs can maintain over decades of use.
    I personally feel the simplicity of design plays an important factor in the wear and tear these can withstand.
    Currently we have a 1910 Thonet armchair mfg in Vienna and outside of some ill advised repairs to the original caning, it’s still tight as a drum and solid as a rock.

    We like them because of their beauty, our clients like Thonet chairs because they can blend with Victorian, Deco, Mid Century and Neo Modernist decor with ease.

    A true classic in every sense of the word!

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