Recently I was lucky enough to catch a matching set of vintage bar stools on Craigslist for a whopping $15. They clearly needed some love and attention – and had been viciously attacked on a few of the woven cane seats. Instantly I had great plans for them – but part of my brain (the smart part) knew that they had more of a story to tell.
With some quick Pinterest hunting and wiki searches – I realised these were at least modelled after – if not an authentic original design from the infamous Michael Thonet design firm. Also, I learned that it’s pronounced Toe-net and not Tho-nay. “Toenet” gives me the giggles and visions of toes busting through fishnet stalkings. I’ll save you the visual – but for the curious amongst us – it’s a quick google away.
Michael Thonet, an Austrian cabinetmaker who lived through the 19th century – was fixated on innovative, commen-sense design. He pioneered the method of steaming beechwood and bending it into curved, sturdy and elegant chairs. His designs are noted as including the first, affordable, factory-produced, assembly-line chairs that could be shipped in pieces and easily assembled. Long before mega giant IKEA – the Thonet chairs were distributed as a DIY knock it together yourself flat pack. This allowed for the Thonet family to be producing and distributing at the beginning of the 20th century over two million products worldwide.
When you start looking into the Thonet legacy – you realise that you’re already familiar with his work as you’ve been seeing them everywhere from bars to cafe’s to homes your entire life. His most famous design – the no.14 – is so ingrained in furniture design history that is still borrowed from and referenced heavily today.
Case in point – this bold reference by Italian design studio – Nucleo, which have paid homage to the no.14 legacy by encasing the chair in solid resin. Transforming the functional piece of furniture into a conversation promoting piece of fine art.
My chairs in particular are referred to as bentwood bistro Paris barstools. They have the traditional rounded (“bent wood”) inner support rings with the tall, slightly kicked out legs. The only provenance I have found is a burned in Made in Romania stamp – but will continue to look as I disassemble the chairs during the refurb process.
It would be amazing to be able to authenticate these chairs as genuine Thonet’s and not reproductions, however there is a strong part of me that wants to go a bit funky with the refinish – which would make the value of the chairs plummet if they are originals. As of now, I plan on doing a complete overhaul of the wood and the existing woven cane finish.
Here are pictures of the chairs before they go off to CaliRose finishing school and I will update the post once they are refinished.