Bentwood Rocking Chairs

Have you ever had one of these in your home?

I have.  This is what my mom’s rocking chair looked like.  Presumably purchased in the seventies, it sat in our living room for years.  Though I knew this type of chair was a Thonet {pronounced tho-nay} bentwood rocking chair, I always thought the design was mid-century.  Turns out it was designed way before that!

Michael Thonet (1796-1871), is known as the German-Austrian inventor of the process of bentwood production, recognized by flowing forms and the resulting lightweight product.  He first opened his furniture cabinetry workshop in 1819 in a rural Austrian town, where in 1830, he experimented with bending steamed wood to create furniture.  The wood is heated with water vapour and then bent into the desired shape, which gives the pieces their particular charm.  In 1853, he founded the the Austrian company ‘Gebrueder Thonet’.  Mihael Thonet received a patent in 1856 for the process of bentwood manufacturing, when he and his five sons began to produce innovative ‘bentwood’ furniture.

The pieces became known for being practical, inexpensive and refined.  By 1900, the Thonet family had 52 assembly-line production factories in Europe, and was the world’s major manufacturer of bentwood furniture.  After his patents for the process expired in 1869, imitations abounded and still do.  Some consider him the founder of modern furniture design.  You probably will recognize another design of his, the one that made him famous.

The Thonet cafe bentwood chair.

Check out some of his early designs.  Aren’t they neat?  And amazingly still relevant?

Thonet's first bentwood rocking chair, upholstered, 1860 - image courtesy of Thonet

Bentwood Rocking Chair no. 10, 1880 - image courtesy of Thonet

You can definitely see a more Victorian look by 1904.

Bentwood Rocking Chair, 1904 - image courtesy of Thonet

I kind of want a couple of these for my front porch.

Bentwood Rocking Reclining Couch, 1883 - image courtesy of Thonet

Child's Rocking Chair, 1883 - image courtesy of Thonet

I bought an imitation bentwood rocking chair at a garage sale several months ago that is sitting in my house.  I planned on taking on a little upholstery project and tufting it myself.  I do looooovvvveeee tufting.  Maybe someday I’ll get to that project.

Etsy

Sometimes you just need to see something in an actual room, right?

Bunny Williams gave this one an acrylic back to not block the beautiful view in this home.  Genius!

Bunny Williams

Elle Decor

KatieDid Blog

from the movie, "Beginners"

Apartment Therapy

There are several photos I found where people have revamped their chairs.  Painting the frame (like the picture above) and sometimes painting the frame and putting upholstery over the caning.

MsGreenDesigns.com

If you are wanting a more modern look, I love the chrome version!

Source Unknown

Lonny

This guy is on Ebay right now!  Somebody needs to snag him!  With some new upholstery, this would be so fab!

Ebay

I also found this teensy little version for a dollhouse on Ebay.  How adorable is this?!

Ebay

I see these chairs all the time at estate sales and consignment stores.  Craigslist usually has several.  Find one, make it you, and send me a picture!  I love to feature Reader Projects!

It is no secret that I love pretty antiques and well-designed vintage furniture.  Something I really appreciate when I find things I think are special, is that these pieces were the maker’s artwork.  Time and thought and scrupulous detail were all part of the process that would create something useful, comfortable, lovely and lasting.  So the next time you see a bentwood rocker, I hope you see more than “Mom or Grandma’s old rocking chair”, I hope you think of Michael Thonet and his five sons, experimenting in their little shop in Austria.  Steaming and bending and creating something different and beautiful.  A classic furniture style.  One we are still using more than 150 years later.

In conclusion, I had to include some incredible pieces of art, by a few very notable artists I might add, that were inspired by Thonet’s molded artwork.

Enjoy.

'Lady standing next to a Thonet Rocking Chair', 1905, Ludwig Kühn

'The Last Evening', 1873, James Jacques Joseph Tissot

Lady In The Rocking Chair',1897, Victor Borisov-Musatov

'Woman in a Rocking Chair', Pierre-Auguste Renoir

'Indoor Rocking Chair', Jean-Édouard Vuillard

'Tea on the Porch', 1889, August Borckmann

'Jacqueline sitting in a Rocking Chair', 1954, Pablo Picasso

A rare peek into a candid Picasso.

Pablo Picasso in his Thonet rocking chair in his studio 'Villa La Californie'

Picasso, Villa Californie, Cannes 1957 - photograph by Andre Villers

From his bentwood rocking chair, Picasso studies his latest portrait of Jacqueline. Villa La Californie, July 1957

 

 

11 Responses to “Bentwood Rocking Chairs”

  1. Lindsey September 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Today’s story warmed my heart! My mother has one of these rocking chairs, that her mother bought for her when I was born, that now sits in my house. I look forward to the day when I have a child of my own to rock with and of course the fun that goes along with updating it to my current design tastes!!!!

    • Grace September 24, 2012 at 4:58 am #

      Lindsey, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story! I loved reading it, and I’m so happy you know the history behind your Mom’s special chair now. Send me a picture when you update it!

  2. Kat September 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Thank you for introducing me to the artsy frames of these wonderful rocking chairs, Grace! One of the things I appreciate most in your posts is how you do the homework for people, so they can achieve the look themselves, especially when they don’t know where to start. Like in this post, you linked up a rocking chair currently for sale on eBay and then gave some tips on how to help someone make it their own. I’m learning so many new things through this blog about the world of design. Great job, Grace. Keep it up.

  3. Grace October 3, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Oh thanks, Kat! I appreciate the encouragement so much, glad you found this pretty and useful. :)

  4. Mary October 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Hi Grace, I just discovered your blog today & I’ve enjoyed reading some of your older posts. When I read this one, I had to contact you.
    For my first apartment back in the mid 70′s (I’m dating myself.) I had a dinet set that consisted of a bentwood table & 4 bentwood cafe chairs. And when I was pregnant, I bought a bentwood rocker. I got rid of each piece in the early 90′s. It never ceases to amaze me how they are popular again. But the rocker was so uncomfortable. I’m sure your mom will agree. It wasn’t the best chair for rocking a baby.
    But thank you for the fun memory!

    • Grace October 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Mary, I so enjoyed reading your comment! Thank you for sharing your “History of Bentwood Furniture”. :) These kinds of stories and connecting with people make this blog very enjoyable to author. So glad you found me, happy reading!

  5. rocking chair November 25, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Very awesome design of rocking chairs you have, it looks elegant antique :)

  6. Melissa January 21, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Grace, like Mary I bought a bentwood rocker in 1977. It was the very first piece of furniture I ever bought. Also like Mary I sold it at a yard sale in the 80s. It just took up too much space in small houses like the one I could afford in California in the 80s. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    • Grace January 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      Melissa, thank you so much for your comment. I had such a great response from this post – who knew these rockers would bring back such sweet memories from so many people??!! Thank you for taking the time to comment. Grace

  7. Ann White February 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Hello, I too enjoyed the bentwood rocker in the 70′s and 80′s. I have two for sale if anyone would like to take on a redesign project of their own! Contact me for pix if interested! Thanks, Grace, for the reminiscing!

    • Grace February 12, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      Hi Ann, thank you so much for your comment! I so wish I needed them – here’s to hoping someone sees the post and responds!