Michael Thonet, the French designer who invented the steam-bent wood chair, would have been 216 this year. And though he might not have the star presence of Le Corbusier or Aalto, for a bicentenarian, Thonet gets name-checked remarkably often: in dozens of tribute chairs, exhibitions, and even an (admittedly ridiculous) Thonet tribute bike.
The best kind of tributes add something to the original—like the Gentle Chair, a piece from Swedish trio Sofia Lagerkvist, Charlotte von der Lancken and Anna Lindgren, known as Front. The bent timber arms and simple leather cushion are clearly inspired by some of Thonet’s most sought-after work, like the swooping No. 210 R, or the abstract No. 81.
But there are a few surprises to be had. "If at first glance it looks like a continuum, a pattern drawing drafted without moving the pencil from the paper, in reality it perfectly hides a complex project," the chair’s manufacturer Porro explains. The white wooden legs curve upward to hug two black leather legs, which form the backrest of the chair. The leather conceals metal tubing, like the kind Mies and Corb’ were fond of using, giving the chair a gentle spring.
By pitting two eras of classic chair design—bent wood and tubular steel—against each other, Front ends up finding room to innovate on both traditions. The chair was unveiled at Salone del Mobile in the spring, and is available via the Italian furniture company Porro.