Enter any café in Vienna and you’ll likely see a bentwood chair (often a little faded with the ravages of time and a million drops of spilled coffee).
The chair’s introduction in the 19th century influenced furniture design for decades to come, with Thonet at the centre of the revolution: the Bentwood and Beyond exhibition at the MAK museum explores the continuing influence of the company and its products.
- Take a trip through the company’s history and discover the importance of Thonet to the Vienna modernist movement and later design developments
- Just under 240 exhibits, including the world-famous No. 14 chair
- Open Dec 18, 2019 – Apr 13, 2020
- Just need a normal museum entrance ticket* or sightseeing pass
- See also: Events in Vienna | MAK visitor and tickets info
Thonet and the chair
A headline that sounds like an unexciting children’s story. What chair? And what’s so great about it?
Ah, well, this is no ordinary wooden seat. This is the chair all little chairs want to be when they grow up. A chair of myth and legend. A chair that stamped its four-legged authority on a city, perhaps an empire, perhaps the world. Most importantly, a chair that epitomises Viennese coffee culture: the No. 14 chair, designed by Thonet.
Launched on an unsuspecting world in 1859 by the Thonet company, this iconic piece of furniture made use of a bentwood manufacturing technique developed by Michael Thonet himself – bending wood under pressure and steam, and then letting it harden again.
The No. 14 chair combined graceful wooden curves and robustness with fast, modern production processes to essentially bring about a revolution in furniture design and manufacture. Thonet sold tens of millions and the company still make and sell its modern iteration (known as no. 214).
The Bentwood and Beyond exhibition looks at the role played by the Thonet company in various aspects of past and present furniture design, beginning with the early impact of their bentwood approaches.
Around 240 exhibits take you through the history of the company, from the early 19th-century to today, illustrating insights on design, materials, technologies and production processes. Thonet’s influence runs like a thread through various furniture developments and manufacturing structures.
And, as a bonus, several contemporary artists explore the impact of the Bentwood technology from an artistic point of view.
Expect to see a lot of chairs. Beautiful chairs. But other furniture, too, and items by designers such as Josef Hoffmann.
Dates and tickets
The Thonet exhibition runs from Wednesday, December 18th, 2019 to Monday, April 13th, 2020. The MAK opens every day bar Monday from 10am to 6pm (10pm on Tuesdays).
A normal entrance ticket to the museum gets you into the exhibition. A standard ticket* currently costs €12 with concessions available and free admission for under 19s. The MAK is also covered by the Vienna Pass (see my review of this all-inclusive sightseeing pass).
How to get to the Thonet exhibition
See the main MAK article for tips, but it’s easy to reach given the central location with a subway and tram stop practically outside the museum’s front door.
Address: Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna