Thonet, the story of an innovative firm

Michael Thonet (1796-1871),

Well known for his bentwood furniture, whose simplicity will influence later designers Michael Thonet is the founder of a family business and pioneer in the industrial manufacture of furniture He created with his five sons a furniture empire in a few decades

Thonet is located at the junction between the cabinetmaking workshop and the furniture factory, it thus marks the transition from craftsmanship to industry. It is with him that we will see the term editor of design

Michael Thonet trained in classical cabinetmaking and set up on his own in the 1820s He first made furniture in the style of Biedermeier This was a pivotal period, the situation of artisanal carpentry being then in full change throughout Europe The first change is the lifting of corporatist constraints Gradually anyone will be able to set up as a craftsman, which will lead to a quantitative development of production and will lead to a qualitative drop in products It is important to note that the firm Thonet has succeeded in setting up tools to develop mass production, without the quality falling

Around 1830 Thonet perfected a technique for bending wood He used slats of veneer wood, boiled them in a bath of strong, hot and purified glue The slats assembled in bundles could thus be bent with molds which were put under tension with presses They are then maintained until they are dry The elements produced are both light and resistant At this time we speak of Boppard furniture, in connection with the city where Thonet worked The firm quickly seek to patent his invention of laminated, glued and curved wood

At the end of the 1830s, Thonet was bankrupt and was forced to seek the help of merchants and bankers He succeeded in exhibiting his furniture in Koblenz, Germany in 1841 The German Chancellor Metternich discovered Thonet's works there and was immediately won over He then recommends him to come and settle in Vienna where he can produce his furniture in series He will even supply the imperial furniture repository With this first Austrian success he participates in the 1st great universal exhibition in London in 1851 He presents with pieces unique with very elaborate curves, the principle being to impress the spectators in order to show that one can do what one wants with curved wood He wins the bronze medal and understands immediately the importance that these exhibitions will have

A growing firm

In 1853 Michael Thonet transforms the firm into a company established in the name of his five sons Thonet becomes Thonet brothers and the company will soon become world famous They will participate in the 1st Universal Exhibition in Paris and will win contracts with South America C It was then that they built their first factory but, encountering problems with the supply of beech, they kept it in the immediate vicinity of the forest and a railway line which they were going to use. This system began to look like capitalism. contemporary They then built four factories, the last opened in 1868 in Moravia

Innovative communication techniques

To distribute furniture on a global scale, communication techniques evolve In 1959, sales catalogs are created Thanks to this type of document, Thonet is no longer obliged to display all the models in stores The company will have its catalogs translated in many languages. It is the firm that produces and markets its own furniture

After the First World War, the Thonet house remains an important design editor It will be necessary to wait until 1925 for the Thonet seats to be brought back into the spotlight by modernist designers