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What Is a Bentwood Chair?

By Norma Jean Howland
Updated May 16, 2024
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A bentwood chair is a chair made from wood that has been bent into shape using a steam process that was invented in the 1800s. This type of chair usually has a simple design and is made out of about six pieces of wood all held together by screws and nuts. Its wooden back is rounded. As one of the characteristics of a bentwood chair is comfort, it is often found in restaurants, hotels and bars. The chair remains popular today and is one of the most mass-produced pieces of furniture in the history of chair making.

The idea for a bentwood chair originated with Michael Thonet, a German born cabinetmaker. Thonet wanted to design a piece of furniture that could be mass produced, that had few parts, and that was not difficult to assemble. The manufacturing process for this type of chair involves heating the wood with steam, which allows the wood to then be bent into the classic rounded chair shape. This simple way of making furniture enabled mass production of the bentwood chair and helped to pave the way for what became the standard bentwood design.

Although there are several styles of bentwood chairs, a typical chair design features a hair pin or candy cane back with a rounded wooden seat. This simple, yet classic shape remains popular even many years after the first chair was manufactured. This type of chair is also sometimes found with a cane seat. Usually a bentwood chair is fashioned out of beechwood, which tends to be inexpensive and strong. Since the wood will usually become softer with age, the chair ages into an even more comfortable place in which to sit.

This classic chair is often bought in large quantities for use in restaurants, conference centers, and hotels. Yet the bentwood chair is known for its versatility and can be found in many homes around the world. The shape and style of the chair make it a recognizable piece of classic furniture that is often found in sidewalk cafes or coffee houses. The chair is lightweight and easy to store in a small space, and several of the chairs can be stacked one on top of one another when not in use.

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