Thonet, Breuer, and 70s-inspired Cane Furniture are All Trending in Interior Design for the 2020s

The History of Thonet and Breuer Furniture and Why Cane is Trending in Design Once Again

One of the most important things to note about interior design and architecture trends is that they are all rooted in past design movements through history. Rarely does a color, material, or style rise in popularity without context or roots in past design decades. Whether it is interiors, architecture, or even fashion, the nature of design is cyclical—always taking inspiration from and offering new takes on the past. One recent trend our San Antonio interior designers have noticed is the rise in popularity of cane furnishings in the 2020s. Cane is often associated with the interiors of the 1970s, but its mainstream production and use date back to the early 1850s. Our San Antonio home design team takes a dive into design history, tracing the cane trend through the furniture designs of Thonet and Breuer and their popularity in the 1850s, 1920s, 1970s, and today. 

Cesca Chair by Garage Magazine
Cesca Chair by Garage Magazine

Thonet Furniture 

The History of Michael Thonet and Gebrüder Thonet

Michael Thonet (1796–1871) was a German-Austrian cabinet maker who ventured into furniture design in the early 1830s. At this time, the furniture-making process involved carving heavy woods, which extended production times and resulted in higher price points. Thonet started experimenting with bending lightweight woods with steam, expediting the production process and delivering a lighter-weight furniture piece at a lower price. The public began to take notice of his work at trade fairs. He launched the Gebrüder Thonet company with his sons in the 1850s, which still operates today. Thonet hit his breakthrough with the No. 1 Rocking Chair, which launched the popularity of bentwood furniture and expanded his production worldwide.    

Michael Thonet
Michael Thonet

What is Bentwood Furniture? 

Bentwood furniture is created through a process that involves steaming wood, bending it, and letting it harden into curved forms. This production method was popularized by Thonet and used to make rocking chairs, cafe chairs, and other lightweight furnishings. You have most likely sat on a bentwood chair in a cafe. Bentwood is also a common technique used in the production of cane furnishings.  

Thonet Bentwod Rocking Chair
Thonet Bentwod Rocking Chair

Famous Thonet Furniture Pieces: The No. 14 Chair 

Thonet’s most famous furniture piece is the No. 14 Chair, also known as the bistro chair. Originally introduced in 1859, this chair features a bentwood frame and back as well as a woven cane seat. It was the world’s first mass-produced furniture piece, and over 50 million were sold between the release and 1930. Still in production today, the bentwood cane chair is experiencing a revitalization in popularity, as it had previously in the 1970s. 

Thonet Chair No14 by Moma
Thonet Chair No14 by Moma

Thonet Popularizes Cane Furniture 

To some, cane furniture may seem like a new trend this decade. However, this material was popularized over 150 years ago! Thonet’s cane bistro chair earned the gold medal at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris, graced thousands of cafes and homes by the 1920s, and experienced a resurgence in the 1970s before making its way back in vogue in the 2020s.  

Breuer Furniture 

The History of Marcel Breuer and His Role in the Bauhaus Movement  

While Thonet popularized the use of cane with his mass-produced bistro chair, the cane chair that is really making waves in the 2020s was designed by Marcel Breuer. Marcel Lajos Breuer (1902–1981) was a Hungarian modernist architect and furniture designer best known for his work within the Bauhaus school. The Bauhaus approach sought to unify the principles of mass production while blending aesthetics and function. He was an AIA Gold Medal winner, and he designed The Robinson House, UNESCO headquarters, and former IBM headquarters that served as the birthplace of the personal computer. Breuer is well known for creating two chairs, one of which features a cane design that was popular in the 1970s and is again trending in interior design today.  

Marcel Breuer
Marcel Breuer

Famous Breuer Furniture Pieces: The Wassily Chair

Breuer’s first furniture piece was the Wassily Chair or Model B3 Chair. While it doesn’t feature cane, this iconic chair released in 1926 embodies the Bauhaus principles and has remained in continuous production since the 1950s. The design consists of a metal frame with bands of taught fabric. It is commonly seen in modernist interiors. 

Breuer Wassily Chair by Moma
Breuer Wassily Chair by Moma

Famous Breuer Furniture Pieces: The Cesca Chair

Almost 100 years later, Breuer is once again creating a buzz in 2020s interior design trends for his Cesca Chair. He designed the Cesca Chair in 1928, and it was deemed one of the ten most important chairs of the 20th century. Named after his daughter Francesca, the chair design features a tubular steel frame with a cane seat and back. The chair was mass-produced in the 1920s and experienced a resurgence when reproduced by Knoll in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the Cesca Chair is making appearances again in design magazines, celebrity homes, and Instagram photos as homeowners gravitate towards a revised 70s aesthetic. 

Breuer’s Use of Cane & Relationship with Thonet 

Similar to Thonet, Breuer sought to design a functional, beautiful, and accessible chair that could be mass-produced. In many ways, Breuer’s Chesca cane chair is similar to Thonet’s bistro chair. Breuer’s steel tubular frame mirrors the look of bentwood, with a modern edge, and both designs feature cane seats. Cane furniture provides a beautiful airy aesthetic and lightweight design practical for both manufacturing and everyday use in the home. Both of Breuer’s chair designs were actually first produced by Thonet. It is easy to see a correlation between Thonet’s designs of the 1850s and Breuer’s designs of the 1920s. 

Cane Inspired Design by Chairish
Cane Inspired Design by Chairish

The Popularity of Thonet, Breuer, and Cane Furniture Through the Decades—1850s, 1920s, 1970s, and Today

Once you take a look at design history, it is easy to see that the 1970s cane furniture trend of the 2020s dates even further back, having big moments in the 1920s and reimagining furniture production in the 1850s. Cane itself is thought to date back all the way to ancient Egypt. So why is cane furniture, specifically the Cesca Chair, trending again in the 2020s? The designs of Thonet and Breuer offer practicality and clean lines that still feel modern and can blend with a variety of design styles. Cane provides visual interest, texture, and an airy feel—all elements that many homeowners look for in a residential design plan. Simply put, good design will always be in style, no matter the decade. 

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