What is a Bistro Chair? (with photos)

Bistro chairs can be used both indoors and outdoors.

The bistro chair is a versatile chair that is used in restaurants, cafes and homes all over the world. It fits comfortably into all seasons and even ages well. According to some, as the chair matures and the frame loosens, it becomes softer and molds into an even more beautiful piece of furniture. While most manufacturers have yet to improve or even reproduce the original wooden chair, many have produced imitation styles using plastic or metal. These chairs are used both indoors and outdoors as functional and elegant seating options.

Bistro chairs are commonly seen in cafeterias and sidewalk cafes.

The bistro chair has a rich and interesting history. It all started with Michael Thonet, an Austrian-German who lived between 1796 and 1871. Michael began his career as a cabinetmaker after learning to be a carpenter. He worked independently for many years, building his reputation as a quality craftsman, and in the 1830s he aspired to make furniture from glued wooden slats. His first success was in 1836 when he created the Boppard tiered wooden chair. This chair was a close cousin of today’s bistro chair.

In 1849, Thonet joined his five children to start his own curved wood furniture business. The following year, he produced Chair No. 1, which won the bronze medal at the London World’s Fair. Four years later, at the Paris World Exhibition, he won a silver medal. He was constantly improving production and expanding his company. But perhaps his greatest success was in 1859, when he created the Bistro Chair #14.

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The simple, classic and distinctive design of the bistro chair consisted of just six wooden components and held together by two nuts and ten screws. It won the Thonet brothers the gold medal at the Paris World Exhibition of 1867. The 14-chair bistro armchairs were being sold around the world in numbers reaching 50 million by 1930.

The practical and economical chairs, but with a beautiful shape and easily dismantled, are probably responsible for their huge success. When Michael Thonet died in 1871, aged 75, his company from such modest beginnings boasted offices in nearly 20 countries. The Bistro No. 14 is still considered the “chair of chairs”, its timeless model is still used in countless restaurants, homes, offices and coffee shops around the world.

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