On a recent trip out to Vashon Island we made our obligatory stop at Grannies Attic. Grannies is an institution on the island. It is what thrift stores used to be. “Thrifty” You can actually still find and purchase a great item there for under $3. I blogged earlier about the cabin we are renovating on the island INDIGO and it is still underway. We have been looking for gently used treasures to add to it so we make our stop at Grannies before heading down to tear into yet another area that needs renovating. It is amazing the things I have found….. Calphalon cookware for $1, antique linen, napkin set $3.50, framed original woodblock prints $10, a brand new Calvin Klein dress with the tags still on $5.00 (The tag said $260) SCORE! On a recent trip I spotted 4 chairs like the one featured above. I quickly made my way over and through the overstuffed, corduroy recliners, and oak chairs and flipped the black chair over. It was old and was extremely well made. They were in pristine condition even with cane seats which told me that someone had loved these chairs and they were of high quality. But were they Thonet? The girl at the register told us they were $5.00 each or $15 for the four. Thonet or not, I was buying them.
I got them home and gave them a good cleaning and some spot repair. I was able to finally read a tag that said Made in Italy. Then I uncovered another tag you see below.
A quick search on the internet revealed that these were made by a furniture company in Italy that was known for its high quality but they used designs from other companies. The maker was Salvatore Leone, from Modena, Northern Italy. (Unfortunately now deceased) The Leone’s were builders in the 19th century, and were also into coach building, cabinetmaking and boat building. However both the first and second world wars, took a heavy toll, both in terms of financial and human resources. After Salvatores death in the late 70’s, there were no family members left to continue the business. Which seems a shame considering how well these chairs have held up.
Michael Thonet (2 July 1796 — 3 March 1871) was a German-Austrian cabinet maker. Following a carpenter’s apprenticeship, Thonet set himself up as an independent cabinetmaker in 1819. In the 1830s, Thonet began trying to make furniture out of glued and bent wooden slats. Thonet’s essential breakthrough was his success in having light, strong wood bent into curved, graceful shapes by forming the wood in hot steam. This enabled him to design entirely novel, elegant, lightweight, durable and comfortable furniture, which appealed strongly to fashion. In 1850 he produced his Nr 1 chair.
The World’s Fair in London 1851 saw him receive the bronze medal for his Vienna bentwood chairs. This was his international breakthrough. At the next World’s Fair in Paris 1855, he was awarded the silver medal as he continued to improve his production methods. The 1859 chair Nr. 14
– better known as Konsumstuhl Nr. 14, coffee shop chair no. 14 – is still called the “chair of chairs” with some 50 million produced up until 1930. It yielded a gold medal for Thonet’s enterprise at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair.
When Michael Thonet died 1871 in Vienna, his business Fa. Gebrüder Thonet had sales locations across Europe as well as Chicago and New York. People still want his classic designs, myself included. I had been contemplating purchasing 4 of these beauties at Design Within Reach for months.
But so glad I waited. I got the thrill of the ride of thinking I had found 4 original Thonet chairs for a song. I also ended up getting a history lesson on furniture making in Italy by Salvatore Leone and a refresher on the background of Thonet. All for the bargain sum of $15. What a lucky find.
What was your luckiest find? Leave your answer in the comment section below. Can’t wait to hear about your discovery.
Images courtesy of j. ingerstedt, wikipedia.com, http://www.vam.ac.uk, DWR.com, www.thonet.com.au, sfgirlbybay.com