The MR Chair's Manufacturing Background

Our story on the Vanguard Way House prompted a query about the vintage armchairs featured in the living room.
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Marcy Landolfo of Portland, Oregon, wrote in the following and provided an image of her chair:

Big windows need massive supports that are hard to disguise. To get unobstructed views, Levy did away with the beams, opting instead to use laminated veneer lumber studs to hold the windows in place. The Poltrona Frau sofas date from the 1980s, and the cane-chrome armchairs are from Gebrüder Thonet Vienna.


"I was enjoying the July/August issue of Dwell on a flight down to Southern California when I noticed a set of chairs on p. 74. They are referred to as 'cane-chrome armchairs from Gebruder Thonet Vienna.' This sparked my curiosity, as I have a pair of these chairs (that I scored for $65 off Craigsist, if you can stand it!) and when I was doing my research, I was led to believe they were MR armchairs, attributed to Mies Van Der Rohe, c. 1926. Can you please explain the difference between the Mies MR armchairs and the Thonet Cane-Chrome armchairs? Additionally, do you know an approximate time frame for the chairs?"

Marcy Landolfo's MR Chair.


The residents purchased the chairs when they lived in Nice, France. The manufacturer is the German company Thonet GmbH, not Gebruder Thonet Vienna as we listed, and the designer is Mies van der Rohe. To clarify the chairs’ history and their various manufacturers, we turned to Sam Kaufman, a furniture expert who owns an eponymous gallery in Los Angeles. Here's what he has to say:


"Mies van der Rohe's first important design for a chair, the MR20, was created in 1927 for an exhibition in Stuttgart, and originally made by Berliner Metallgewerbe Josef Müller (and possibly also by another Berlin workshop, Bamberg Metallwerkstätten). Gebruder Thonet began mass-production of the design a few years later, from 1932 on. After the war, the MR20 was, like Mies's Barcelona chair, produced in America by Knoll, from the 1950s on. The chairs are Mies-designed MR20s, whoever made them. If they are copies, they are exact copies. But it is very hard to tell from a photograph how old these examples are. Furniture with rattan seating surfaces is very often refurbished, as the material tends to deteriorate with use, and can require periodic replacement. The rattan on these chairs doesn't seem to be worn enough to be original if they are pre-war examples.


"Gebruder Thonet GmbH is the full name of the company, which happens to be the oldest furniture manufacturer in the world. Gebruder Thonet means 'Thonet Brothers' while 'GmbH' is the German equivalent of 'Inc.' In 1922, Thonet, which was already a long-established and large firm with factories in many counties, absorbed Mundus, its competitor in bentwood furniture (a process that was actually invented by Thonet). Mundus had only a few years before that already merged with a third famous manufacturer of bentwood furniture, Jacob & Josef Kohn. After that Thonet was the pre-eminent European furniture company."


We hope this clarifies things!


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