His solid bentwood chair has been in continuous production since then, with over fifty million chairs produced to date. Developed specifically to be affordable and to have widespread appeal, it launched Thonet’s international reputation.
The 214, or coffee-house chair, was the first flat-pack chair ever. It was constructed from six components and a handful of screws and was shipped all over the world and assembled on site in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa.
Today the 214 chair is the most successful industrial product in the world and the reason why Thonet is regarded as a pioneer of industrial design.
With its simple lines and extreme functionality, the chair introduced a new aesthetic. Homes, cafés and restaurants suddenly looked lighter and less opulent.
The timelessness of the 214’s design has been noted by many architects and designers. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier was amongst its fans. “This chair, millions of which are to be found on the European mainland and in both Americas, has class,” he said.
The Danish designer Poul Henningsen once said that if ever an architect produced a chair that was five times as expensive, three times as heavy and just one-quarter as beautiful, then he would undoubtedly make a name for himself by doing so.
The quality was – and remains – so high that the chairs survive for generations. Many of the chairs produced in the 19th century are still in use. These days the company is run by the fifth generation of the Thonet family, direct descendents of Michael Thonet, in Frankenberg in North Hesse, Germany.