The Thonet Chair Company must have been astonishing to see at the 1851 World’s Fair. In presenting simple seats made of gracefully curved, steam-bent wood, they bucked centuries of convention, countless generations of heavy, formal, carved furniture. But it was in 1859 when the company introduced their most famous model that you’ll undoubtedly recognize today, the No. 14 chair. It became the quintessential cafe seat. So by 1930, 50 million No. 14s had been sold and the aesthetic of furniture had been changed forever.
Andy Martin is a London architect who was tapped to reimagine Thonet’s steam-bent heritage in a new light. His studio designed the Thonet Bike, an absurdly beautiful beechwood bicycle produced in much the same way as Thonet’s chairs were over a century ago. "Initially we designed something along the lines of a Dutch traditional bike, as we thought this to be more on-brand, but soon saw the parody in the proposal," Martin tells Co.Design. "We started to develop concepts moving away from the tradition and focusing on the material and the bending process."
What Martin eventually created is the bike you see here—not a kitschy nod to the good old days, but a complete reimagining of Thonet’s hand-bent wood construction. It’s basically a Thonet chair with off-the-shelf carbon-fiber wheels, and somehow, it’s entirely lustable. "The raw formed Beechwood is very tactile and has a slightly 'nude’ feel to it," Martin explains. "We wanted the bike to have a progressive aesthetic and still feel handcrafted." Indeed, if the bike were made of metal, it’d be right at home in a sci-fi film. Instead, it just looks like a fresh and fast piece of art.
Of course, Martin did turn to a few modern technologies to craft the bike. While the wood frame is enitrely steam-bent, CNC machines finished contours while carving the critical reinforcement joints. But beyond these loose notes on the construction process, we’re told, "the rest is a secret." If you’d like a Thonet Bike of your own, they’re available in a bespoke limited edition for $70,000 apiece.
[Hat tip: mocoloco]