Contemporary furniture manufacturing brand Gebrüder Thonet Vienna GmbH is the current Austrian incarnation of the legendary Thonet company, founded by German-Austrian cabinetmaker Michael Thonet in the 19th century.
Michael Thonet (1796-1871) set up his first cabinetmaking atelier in Boppard, Germany, in 1819, specialized in Biedermeier-style chairs, tables, and storage pieces, characterized by clean lines, reduced ornamentation, and an emphasis on functionalist principles. By the 1830s, Thonet’s experiments in laminated and steam-bent wood furniture, like his famous Boppard Chair (1836), brought international acclaim. Thonet’s designs achieved a marriage of lightness, durability, and comfort unknown in European furniture at the time.
In 1842, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich of Austria invited Thonet to present his designs to the Viennese court. As financial challenges mounted at home, Thonet relocated his family and business from Germany to Vienna. In 1853, he transferred his company to his sons, and Gebrüder Thonet was established. A new factory was set up in Koryčany, Moravia in 1856, which brought access to the region’s wealth of beech wood, an ideal material for Thonet’s signature bentwood process.
Gebrüder Thonet’s bentwood chairs grew in popularity among the European vanguard in the decades leading up to the 20th century—years that coincided with the foundation of the design reform movement and the development of design as a profession. For pioneers of modernism like Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, the formal and material efficiency embodied in Gebrüder Thonet’s furniture became a shining example of what design should be in the modern era.
Iconic pieces from the traditional Gebrüder Thonet collection include Rocking Chair No. 1 (1860), No. 14 Café Chair (ca. 1859), Adolf Loos’s Café Museum Chair (1899), No. 209 Armchair (ca. 1900), Otto Wagner’s No. 247 Postal Savings Bank Chair (1904), and Josef Hoffmann’s No. 811 (1925).
In 1976, Thonet was divided into two separate German and Austrian companies, which remain independent of each other. In 2003, driven by a personal passion for the company, Franco Moschini, head of Poltrona Frau Group, acquired Gebrüder Thonet Vienna GmbH. In 2013, Moschini brought in former Gufram CEO Riccardo Pigati to further revitalize the Gebrüder Thonet Vienna (GTV) brand and build on its rich legacy. To that end, GTV has moved production from Eastern Europe to Italy in order to better control quality. Furthermore, the company has increased efforts to create “new classics” in collaboration with major, international designers, such as Nigel Coates, Front, Gamfratesi, Martino Gamper, Michele de Lucchi, and Nendo. GTV continues to manufacture, as well, a number of Thonet masterpieces designed by Loos, Hoffmann, Wagner, and, of course, Michael Thonet himself.
* All images courtesy of Gebrüder Thonet Vienna