In 2003 I went to Interior Design school at FIDM in Los Angelos. One of my favorite classes was on the history of furniture. I remember a book my professor suggested- 1000 Chairs. It had all of the chairs I’d learned and many more. One of them, the Thonet bentwood rocking chair (pronounced tho-nay) stood out.
When I was little, this rocking chair was in our house. It didn’t seem special, just a background piece in my memories. I’m a very nostalgic person so when I was thrifting and found a kids size Bentwood rocking chair for $25 in perfect condition, I swooped it right up!
Thonet bentwood rocking chair history
I’ve received many messages from other people who had this rocker in their houses growing up as well or who have one now. Which I love! One of my favorite parts of thrifting is hearing sweet memories from people of the pieces I find and/or buy.
I thought I’d share a little bit of this chairs history-
The inventor of bentwood production is Michael Thonet (1796-1871). He opened a furniture workshop in Austria in 1819. He created filigree and elegant chairs while testing new technologies with wood. The Austrian State Chancellor saw potential in Thonet and convinced him to move to Vienna where he was able to grow his knowledge, skills, and network.
Eleven years later, in 1830, he started experimenting with bending steamed wood to create furniture. What he found is that by heating wood with water vapor, he could bend it into beautifully rounded shapes.
Later, in 1856, Thonet received a patent for the process of bentwood manufacturing. Soon Thonet, with his five sons, began producing the innovative bentwood furniture. The furniture designs were quickly known for being practical, inexpensive, and charmingly refined.
the bentwood chair
Thonet’s chairs were first used in coffee houses which helped launched Thonet’s success. The cafe chair- named Chair No. 14- was designed in 1859 from the technology of bending solid beech wood. Way before the era of globalization, a chair was available worldwide that could be produced in large numbers. It was a huge advancement for furniture building.
Manufacturing image via
By 1900, the Thonet company had 52 assembly-line production factories in Europe, and was the world’s major manufacturer of bentwood furniture. After his patents for the process expired in 1869, imitations started to be created
In the 1890’s, the No.21 Rocking Chair was designed. It has elaborate curves and a hand woven cane seat and back. It is an iconic Thonet design. It’s made of beech wood. The sleek design is considered a masterpiece of craftsmanship as it provides comfort, support, and beauty.
Thonet Bentwood Rocking Chair redo
After sharing all of that beautiful history, it might seem silly that I want to touch this almost perfect little rocking chair. But the truth is that the second it went in my house, the dark color was just not right. Still, I wanted to do right by the chair and respect it’s beautiful condition and craftsmanship.
step 1- dis-assemble
Start by taking it apart. It breaks down to lots of little pieces. MAKE SURE to take pictures as you break it down. It is a complicated little chair. There are also 5 different sizes of screws. I kept them separate and labeled each one so that when we went to reassemble the chair, it’d be easier.
Here’s the chair all in pieces. See- it’s a lot!
step 2- Sand
Next, I took my Palm Sander and removed the old red stain. I looooove the light rustic wood color! It’ll go much better in my house. The bad news is that it took me two long days of sanding. It was a dusty, boring work. I’ve heard sanding called the devil’s work. And I couldn’t have described it better myself- lol.
Where I could, I used the bigger palm sander. In the tighter curves, I used the Dremel Sander. It can get in much tighter spots and I’m so glad I had it handy. I sanded each piece until I got to the raw wood.
step 3- repair work
When I was taking apart the chair, there was one spot where the wood was cracked and a bolt had fallen out. So I took wood glue to put it back together and clamps to hold everything in place.
There were a few spots in the wood where there were tiny cracks. So I filled those with wood filler and then sanded them smooth.
Finally it is time to seal the wood. At this point, I could have stained it, but I liked the light color. I had two products I tested on the wood to see what I liked. On the left piece of wood, I tried hemp seed oil. I din’t like how it yellowed and darkened the wood color. The Gator Hide on the right darkened the color a bit, but the protection it gives to the wood makes it worth it!
So I applied the gator hide to the rocker. It’s by Dixie Belle Paint and I’ve used this product for years. I love how it protects my projects. I applied it very lightly with a paint brush. Too dark and it yellows so I was very careful when brushing it on.
Ta da! Here’s the rocking chair all done! I love the natural finish. That with the rattan seat and back makes it feel right at home in Don’s room.
While I was working on the rocking chair, I thought I’d work on the art over Don’s $30 thrifted dresser that I painted. I used to have a poster there, but it always looked unfinished. So I took 30 minutes to paint a yellow arch above the dresser. It was such an easy way to anchor the art on the wall!
Don and I popped by Target to grab these colorful dinosaurs. Aren’t they cute?! They are $1 each and we found them in the Dollar Spot. You can buy them online here. I thought they’d be cute for a little rainbow moment. I like decorating with kids toys- they don’t break and can be played with. It’s a win-win situation.
For the art above the dresser, I am really happy with the modern dinosaur prints! I’ll link to the triceratops, brontosaurus, and T rex prints. I got them in the 12×12 size and then used the magnetic hangers to hang them. I ordered the prints to save some money and then used the hangers for an affordable framing option.
On the right side of the dresser, I added a little framed dream big art- I like how it pulls in the color of the room. I also hung a woven leaf piece that adds great texture and works with the dinosaur theme for the room.
The box on top of the dresser is a thrifted jewelry box that I painted green. Inside the little drawers are Don’s treasures- thing like shark teeth and souvenir pennies and fun kid stuff like that. To the right are shelves my husband and I built to hold books. There’s more across the room that hold his dinosaur collection. Here’s the tutorial for how to make them.
It’s so important to me that this room reflects Don’s fun personality and the things he loves. One day I hope he remembers this special room and all the love we poured into creating it together. And now he has a cute rocker for his future memories too!
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