Chairs – 2 Continental Icons of Design

I’ll cover two of my favourites here to start with but there will be many more to come in future blogs.

My blogs are purposely short to make for easier reading, they are not essays and are not historical documents although any information in them has been researched to the best of my ability.

Like many people I do have a disposition towards chairs and not just because I like sitting down but that they are practical, utilitarian, can be rustic, crude, simple, sophisticated, primitive and elegant and of all shapes and sizes. They are the quintessential all­-rounder of furniture.



Although Thonet is more widely known for the standard No.14 chair in which more than 50 million have been sold since production started and is often seen in cafés all over the world, it is their No.4 that captured people’s attention when it was commissioned in 1849 for the Café Daum in Vienna, Austria. They are slender, strong, elegant and fit into virtually any setting. These chairs then went into production shortly thereafter, Thonet quickly became the most successful manufacturers of furniture through the mid/late 19th century and early 20th century (the industrial age).

It was designed by Michael Thonet and was the first ever large scale commission job for bentwood chairs, they were ground breaking in their day and his technique for steaming and bending the wood is today widely used by industry and artisans the world over. The No.4 model has become a design icon with many museums around the world holding examples of these chairs, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris & the Victoria and Albert museum in London, although the V&A version of the chair is a later reissue without the turning at the top of the leg.

The history of Michael Thonet & the company Thonet is interesting and I would recommend further reading on the site .

Francois Carré


Again this is a design of chair that has lasted, although the originals nearly always need repairing at some stage. Francois Carrédidn’t like the cumbersome garden furniture that was around at the time and came up with this design where the frames were made of wrought iron and the seats and backs were made of sprung steel and the whole chairs were rivetted instead of the standard welds. The sunburst seats were connected with a pinwheel in the middle which allowed all the sprung steel strips to flex and move without breaking, just another of his innovative designs.

Most famous for their pinwheel garden chairs which, like Thonet, were innovative in their day, it was not until they were commissioned by Le Corbusier in 1929 to make this strap back design for the Carlos de Beistegui penthouse apartment on the Champs-Elysees in Paris that they garnered the public’s attention and became a style icon. These chairs are not just sculpturally elegant but against all inclinations are actually very comfortable too, quite an achievement in metal.

The famous photoshoot of the rooftop apartment in which these chairs are the centrepiece can be found on  . This was such an influential shoot that Vogue UK magazine tried to recreate it in April 2011 titled The Right Lines.

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