Three Simple Facts About The Spectacular Thonet Chairs

Every chair should be a throne and hold a king. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had never heard of Thonet Chairs but had often sat on them in Paris cafes.  Perhaps not an actual Thonet, but one of those bentwood-cained-seat bistro chairs modeled after Thonet.  I was oblivious as I enjoyed my cafe au lait what those iconic chairs were all about.

When my spouse came home with a pair of ratty chairs he had retrieved from a dumpster near our Brussels apartment, I was not amused.  The things in the dumpster came out of a house next door.  An elderly woman had lived there and was moved to an assisted living situation.  We were told by our Swedish neighbors upstairs she had been part of the Belgian resistance during World War 2.  I wish I knew more.

True, they were sturdy, but that was about all.  Still, I cleaned them up and sat them in the corner by a window overlooking the lake.  When we were preparing to return home to Wichita, the representative helping with our move noticed the chairs.  She said they looked like Thonet.  I noticed the label on the underside that said they were Thonet but had no idea of the significance.  She noted they could be valuable, especially if restored, and asked if she could come along on any future dumpster dives!

A New Home For The Thonet Chairs

Thonet ChairsThe chairs came home with us, sitting in the upper hall for twenty-four years.  David did a bit of research using the labels.  The best he could tell is that they were made in 1910.  Given their age, I now see they were in remarkable shape.

From time to time I would look for someone to restore and re-cane the seats, but without success – until recently.  When we discovered someone to restore a thirty-two-drawer oak cabinet, we also discovered that his spouse and business partner did caning!   So after decades, the chairs hold a place of pride better than new.  Here is a YouTube showing how these chairs are caned.

History And More…

Thonet chairs have a 225 history, thus there is a lot to know about them.  Here are three simple facts:

  1.  They were invented by a German, Micheal Thonet.  I know he sounds French, but this surname is found primarily in Germany, Belgium, and the United States.
  2. The company got its start in Vienna, Austria, when the invention caught the eye of Prince Klemens von Metternich.  Thonet moved to Vienna at the Prince’s invitation.
  3. The chair won a bronze medal at the Great Exhibition held in London’s Crystal Palace in 1851

Thonet came home from the exhibition with overflowing order books, which launched the company into the international market.  The company continues today run by direct descendants of Micheal Thonet.

These chairs represent, for us, a convergence of times in Parisian cafes, Brussels Belgium dumpster diving, and something from the region of Germany where the Steinbuchel clan originated.  You see Micheal Thonet was born not far from Cologne Germany, near the German Steinbuchel estate. 

Some things are worth waiting for.

How is your summer story rescuing going?  Let me know!

I am a former air traffic controller, pilot, Aircoupe owner, married 42 years to a great guy. We live in a 125+ year old historic Victorian, enjoy cats, vintage anything, precious friends. My passion is Giving Lost Stories A Voice – Giving Found Materials Fresh Form and Purpose!

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