Friday, 13 December 2013

Classic bentwood chair

There is a saying which gets bandied about in design circles: “when in doubt choosing a chair, choose a bentwood.” And I wholeheartedly agree; you can’t go wrong with an elegant bentwood chair. They are a timeless classic which can suit the most modern of decors or the more traditional style of decorating.

Saarinen tulip table with bentwood chairs. Image from here

Although I have a mid-mod aesthetic, a bentwood chair would sit comfortably in a mid-century home alongside modernist furniture or even a Queenslander with predominantly mid-century furniture –  19th century design can look so good with mid-20th century design.

Originally made in the 1850s by a German-Austrian cabinet maker, Michael Thonet (pronounced ton-et), the bentwood chairs were seen as highly innovative for the times. Solid rods of beech were treated with steam to allow for the rods to be bent into shape and were then left to cure. The chairs were lightweight, yet durable and were seen as a chic alternative to the heavy carved furniture that was prevalent in that period. 

white (albeit very dirty) bentwood chair needing repair
Last week coming home from a night out with a friend, we drove past a hard rubbish collection pile on the footpath.

Poking out from the detritus were two curvy bentwood chairs. My friend and I looked at each other and with a knowing nod we immediately did a u-turn to salvage those chairs.

Fortunately, it was late and it was dark. We got those two chairs stashed into the boot of the car and drove home pronto, exhilarated by our find. My friend took one chair, while I took the other.

Some dodgy bracing on one leg...
Like we needed another chair around here...

The plan is to dismantle it to make it a little less rickety, put a new plywood seat on it and then repaint it. Cross fingers it will be salvageable. It will be a nice handy chair to have around the place... You can't have too many chairs, right?


this chair originally had a rattan seat and was replaced at some point with plywood 

13 comments:

  1. This will be a cool project to watch unfold. What color are you going to paint it? Or will you strip and stain it?

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    1. Thanks Dana. I think we'll end up painting it. I have some graphite chalk paint that will do the trick. xx

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  2. Anita - another person with a chair fetish, excellent! That saying above couldn't be more true, and just the other day I bit the bullet and ordered a set of six for the new place. xx

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    1. There's a few of us around...and how exciting about your new bentwoods. I bet you're thrilled. Where are you getting yours from? Xx

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  3. Nice find! Good old kerbside collection!

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    1. Hooray for hard rubbish collection! xx

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  4. I have one lone bentwood that was also a thrilling roadside find. it was in good nic too and has resided in just about every room. Cant wait to see yours bought back to life. Al x

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    1. Isn't it great to find an old bentwood? Ours is in average nick but hopefully we can make it beautful again. xx

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  5. It's a lovely chair!! I can't believe you can make such wonderful kerbside finds!! And I agree, they fit in perfectly with your mid century loveliness!! xx

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    1. Very lucky. My friend who has the other chair has a father who's a fine furniture restorer. We may be able to reinstate the rattan seat. I'll have to paint strip the chair down though. cx

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  6. Yay, great score, saw two Thonet's recently, one in the oppy for $49 and another at the markets for $25 painted, would you believe in silver, yuk! I bet they are going to look amazing after some tlc. Wish our council would bring back the kerbside clean-ups, we pay enough in rates to fund it.

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    1. Thanks Simmone, I hope they come up well too. What a shame you don't have hard rubbish collection where you are! Xx

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  7. I am sitting on a refurbished J & J Kuhn, Wien, Austria bentwood he was producing bentwoods at the same time Thonet was. This chair belonged to my husbands grandmother my husband is in his late 70's. My granddaughter bought 2 that really were past restoration as they were split, bent and past normal restoration but my husband after looking at some that were for sale decided that he could fix them. Because of the damage etc they had to be painted to cover the repairs but this is what my granddaughter ordered. I now have in my possession 4 more that can be restored in the correct manner ie stripped and restained and seat replaced. They are a chair for every situation simple elegant and oh so nice.



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