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The History and Popularity of Bentwood Furniture Posted 9th October 2014

It may sound like a strange question, but have you ever entered a pub, restaurant or hotel, sat on a piece of furniture and wondered about its history? If it’s a modern piece, then the answer to that is probably a no. But if it’s a classic antique piece, this question may indeed have you pondering the answer. And as Bentwood is practically the embodiment of classic furniture, we thought we would bring you a blog post dedicated solely to this magnificent design so that, if you were to come across it in future, you needn’t ponder any longer.

What is Bentwood furniture?

Number 14 Upholstered Bowback ChairFirstly, let’s take a moment to discuss what Bentwood actually is. Well, the answer really is in the name. Bentwood furniture is a piece where all or part of it is formed by wood that has been bent and shaped to achieve its final design, and you can commonly see this in certain makes of chairs and stools.

The bent pieces of wood can make up various elements of a chair or a stool. They can be curved slightly to form stylish legs or they can be put to practical use. By bending wood into a circle, it can then be added with upholstery to form the seat of the stool itself, or alternatively, placed further down inside the legs to strengthen the entirety of the piece, ensuring it is durable and safe for people to sit on.

One of the benefits of bending wood to create a piece of furniture is the wonderfully imaginative finishes you can achieve. Take Gebrüder Thonet for instance. Also known as the Thonet Brothers, this was a European furniture manufacturer most famous for their production of Bentwood furniture. They developed a production process for the furniture which was the first of its kind on such an industrial-scale. Up until that point in time, manufacturers used individual craft skills but, whilst these were unique, it meant that pieces were not always accurate and previously-crafted components were not easy to replicate precisely.

Amongst the many designs Gebrüder Thonet produced, they also created a Bentwood piece called Cradle in approximately 1870. Styled to look like a baby’s cradle but with an almost gothic-like finish, this piece truly shows how manufacturers can push the boundaries of the method to making Bentwood furniture.

It’s likely you will recognise the iconic Number 14 Bowback chair (also known as the bistro chair) which was originally designed in the 1860s. As one of the best-selling chairs ever made, it is comprised of six pieces of Bentwood including two that form the Bowback element of the chair and a further two for the front legs. It's been estimated that around 50 million of these chairs were sold between 1859 and 1930 alone. And they are still as popular now as they were back then with a constant demand meaning that millions more have been sold since.

How is Bentwood furniture made?

So now we know what Bentwood is, it’s time to find out how it’s made. But surely bending a piece of wood would cause it to break, wouldn’t it? You’d be forgiven for thinking this and if you were to pick up any old piece of wood and try to bend it, you’d find that it probably would indeed break.

It may be a question you’ve never asked yourself before, but it’s a simple one nonetheless; so how exactly can wood be bent? The process of making an item of Bentwood furniture involves using a specialist method of soaking or steaming a good quality piece of wood which causes it to become wet and makes it manageable to bend and manipulate into the desired shape. Once a furniture manufacturer is satisfied with the form it’s taken, the object is then left to dry during which time the wood will harden and solidify into the shape it’s been given.

Where you’ll find Bentwood furniture

Once the wood has hardened, it is then attached to other pieces of wood and made into a stylish chair or stool to complete the classic looks of traditional pubs, restaurants and hotels alike. Whilst here at Taylor’s, we specialise predominantly in the hospitality sector, you may also find yourself spotting the occasional piece sitting in traditionally-styled houses as antique lovers often complete their classic look with more domestic items such as rocking chairs and dining tables.

The versatility of Bentwood means furniture can be available in a variety of finishes, styles and colours which is why we believe it perfectly suits hospitality environments, such as pubs, hotels and restaurants; no matter how the establishment looks, this range of furniture will finish it off beautifully.

Our Number 132 Upholstered Loopback High Stool for instance might be familiar to you when visualised next to a bar. And the upholstery on this particular model ensures that, not only are you sitting on a chair that has a distinct style, but you can rest assured it will be comfortable Number 132 Upholstered Loopback High Stooltoo.

You’ve probably sat on plenty of pieces of Bentwood furniture in your time but may not have even realised it. So next time you’re in a traditional pub, a classic hotel or a bistro restaurant, take a look around and see if you can spot any chairs or stools sporting the distinctive curved shape of Bentwood. You may also notice a few hat stands here and there.

The process of bending wood took years to perfect but we’re glad it was finally achieved. The design is as popular now as it’s ever been and here at Taylor’s Classics, as well as the traditional Bentwood range, we also have our very own exclusive range of Bentwood furniture.

We’re proud to announce that we are now partnered with TON (a company with a history dating back to Michael Thonet) and our recent partnership means that we are authorised UK resellers of Bentwood furniture.

So if you’re an owner of a pub, hotel, restaurant or café and you want to finish off the look of your already classically-styled establishment, or even if you’re after a complete revamp, be sure to take a look at our range of Bentwood chairs, stools, tables and accessories and get in touch with us to discuss your requirements.