Michael Thonet - 19th Century Furniture Maker and Designer
The impact of the Industrial Revolution, and the brand new manifestations of a mechanised era, was the strongest forces in the development of 20th century art and furniture designs, with the introduction of machinery and the production of machine made products. This ushered in a brand new era of 'contemporary' furniture designers and designs.
The Industrial Revolution brought in a deviation from the production of handmade furniture products which were mostly made by home-owners themselves for their own use, to the mass production of machine manufactured furniture products and systems fashioned in factories, for local and international distribution.
The furniture which we see today is created by the climates that nourished the growth of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture.
Bentwood Chairs by Michael Thonet
Of Belgian descent, Michael Thonet was the furniture designer known to creatively use the systems of mass production.
The history of contemporary furniture design and production will be incomplete without mention of this great furniture designer whose name has thus been associated with the growth of modern furniture since the 19th century.
Born in Germany in 1796, Thonet was the inventor of chairs bent into continuous structural shapes.
The process of production was called 'bentwood furniture production', and it involved a process whereby beech wood was softened under a high pressure of steam and then bent into beautiful streamlined chairs.
Michael Thonet developed systems which also included stacking layers of wood veneer, bending them with steam, and then shaping them in heated moulds to form exotic chair designs which are still very relevant in today's furniture styles.
And now in the 21st century, all bent wood and plywood furniture are manufactured based on the same production techniques employed by the 19th century furniture manufacturers.
Components of Thonet’s Machine Produced Chair
These chairs were fixed together with simple metal screws and were distributed un-assembled. This technique of self assembly has become very popular and particularly of efficient importance today.
In the 1920s, they commenced the production of mass furniture using steel tubes, and manufactured designs created by other furniture designers of repute like Le Corbusier (see also, Le Corbusier inspired modern chairs), Breuer and Van de Rohe.
Michael Thonet passed on in 1871, but his legacy still lives on. After his death, the family continued to design and produce his style of furniture, and today, his organisation still manufactures a vast range of furniture items made of steel, aluminium, bentwood, plastic and plywood.
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