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The No 18 Cabaret (Bentwood) Chair – A Brief But Interesting History

blue cabaret chairWhen it comes to iconic cafe chairs they probably didn’t come much more popular than the No. 18 Bentwood chair. Originally invented in 1870 by Michael Thonet it remained one of the most fashionable cafe chairs for over 80 years. Gracing worldwide café’s from Venezuela to Vienna its simplistic splendour made it the ‘must have’ chair of choice for every establishment. It was immortalised in the 1972 film Cabaret when Star Liza Minelli was provocatively dancing around one in her now famous ‘Mein Herr’ routine. So why did the No. 18 Cabaret (Bentwood) chair become so much of a success?

In essence the factor that made it so popular was one born out of frugality. Originally Thonet wanted to make a chair for the masses – one that was cheap to manufacture and cheap to buy. A a result the No. 18 Bentwood chair was born. Consisting of just 6 pieces of wood which were bent and held in place with hardened resin, it was surprisingly robust. In addition it was also very quick to produce. As a result it was the ideal affordable, lightweight, but durable chair for café’s, bars, and restaurants to use. As a result hundreds of thousands were made and they were shipped all over the world, many of which found their way into popular cabaret venues of Paris, hence the name.

The decline

Because the Cabaret chair was cheap to produce it became an early disposable object. It was thought more cost effective to throw it away and buy a new one, rather than to repair the old one. The trouble is that after two world wars Austria, where the chair was originally manufactured, was on its knees. A a result it could no longer keep manufacturing the chairs in such large quantities. The decreased supply, coupled with the fact that the fashion of the day was modernist and decorative, meant that the writing was on the wall and by the 1960’s the Cabaret chair was all but forgotten. That is until the turn of the 21st century…

The resurrection

After nearly 40 years an insatiable appetite for all things retro quickly propelled the Cabaret chair back into the limelight. Suddenly people were delving into their attics and basements and dusting off their tired looking Bentwood chairs to adorn their establishments. Because the demand was so high, whereby a few years before you could pick an old one up for around $20, now an original would set you back somewhere between $150-$200. This led companies to make cheaper imitations so that home and cafe owners could enjoy the look and simplistic styling of the Cabaret chair without the hefty price tag. Nowadays you’ll see Cabaret chairs for sale in a wide variety of materials and colours, all of which are very popular.

Here at Cafe Cairs Sydney for example, we stock a wide variety of Cabaret chairs at great value for money prices. In fact during the month of August we’re having a Cabaret chair sale on certain products, so if you were considering this iconic chair for your venue, now’s the time to buy. Contact us on 02 8379 7737 for further details, or visit our website to see our range of commercial grade cafe chairs for yourself.

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