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Bentwood Rocking Chairs: A Modern Guide to a Classic Rocker

Bentwood Rocing Chairs Header

The Bentwood Rocker is a classic piece of furniture that has been popular since 1860. Michael Thonet first began experimenting with wood bending techniques in 1819. Wood bending techniques up until then were used primarily in shipbuilding. Thonet introduced his first furniture designs in Vienna between 1840-1850. Thonet is acknowledged by some to be the Father of modern furniture because of his innovative designs and unique manufacture techniques that allowed wood bending to be used in furniture production. He was the first to mass produce furniture using the bentwood process prior to designing the classic Bentwood Rocker.

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Portrait of Michael Thonet

Michael Thonet experimented with small pieces of glue and boiled them to soften the wood before placing into molds to shape the wood pieces. The greatest challenge in molding larger sections of wood was that it easily split during the process of forcing wood to bend unnaturally. Thonet invented a technique of using metal strips attached to the ends of wooden rods prior to bending that allowed better flexibility and control of design. The techniques and process of bentwood furniture manufacturing has not changed from Thonet’s original process. Thonet’s earliest chairs used beech wood because it was a lightweight, and easy to obtain. His earliest rocker used only six pieces of wood and ten screws and nuts, yet remained strong and comfortable.

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Antique Bentwood Rocking Chair in Museum

A Bentwood rocking chair is unique because it is lightweight and elegantly designed. The Bentwood rocker is lightweight due to very few pieces and being constructed without seams or joints. The original Bentwood rocker 'Schaukel-Fauteuil No. 1' is the classic Thonet Bentwood Rocker. Now found in museums all over the world as an example reflecting the history of modern furniture, the graceful flow of the wooden rods traditionally follows an S-shaped design that offers the best back support found in a rocker. A convex seat makes getting in and out of a bentwood rocker a bit of a challenge but provides a deeper rocking motion than traditional rockers. This deeper rocking does require a bit of an adjustment as it distributes a person’s center of gravity to allow for greater relaxation. Thonet patented his bentwood process for making furniture in 1856, however when the patent expired in 1870 many other furniture manufacturers began to follow with their own bentwood pieces. Thonet’s Rocker No. 1 was the basis for many modern knockoffs. An authentic Thonet rocker has a stamp under the edge of the seat and earlier pieces may have a paper label.

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Though Michael Thonet died in 1871, his traditional bentwood furnishings live on. The design of the original Bentwood rocker fits well in today’s ultra-modern design plans. The lightweight elegance and classic beauty of the bentwood rocker remains a popular choice today. The bentwood rocker is strong and durable, yet is now available in variations matching individual preferences for color, wood choice, and seating options. While woven cane seating is traditional, cushions or upholstered options are also now an option. Even with newer models available and knockoff versions often being easier on the wallet, the original classic Thonet Bentwood rocker with its gracefully bent curves remains a highly sought after item. To celebrate the 190th anniversary of the first rocking chair ever to be manufactured using the bentwood process, the Thonet manufactures released a limited number of what Rocking Chair No. 1 from its headquarters in Frankenberg, Germany. These were produced using the same traditional methods and tools used to manufacture the very first Bentwood rocker in 1860. The innovative design and commitment to exploring new methods and techniques for building exceptional furnishing set the standard for modern furniture that continues to this day. The intricate design of Greek and Roman influence seen in Thonet’s original rocking chair makes this rocker a true piece of art as well as a practical piece of furnishing. The original Bentwood rocker could easily be mistaken for a very new Avant-garde or Modernistic design. The elegant artist quality combined with comfortable usability of a classic Bentwood Rocker continues to make it a popular rocker in many homes throughout the world today.

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