TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

there is only one TON. we all have that chair we idolize, dream of owning, and hope to pass down to be treasured by our next generation. we admire their timelessness, ever-lasting style, and careful craft of its bent timber. but this – the 160-history of a place where wood is constantly bending – is just one part of the famed brand. heritage comes hand-in-hand with innovation. icons like chair 18 and novelties like the split + bloom series sit side-by-side. the old and new mix, bringing together the tried and tested, and adapting them to meet the modern day. many pieces make a whole but there is only one TON.

 

designboom walks through TON’s home in bystřice pod hostýnem – the origin of every single one of their furniture pieces, from its timber to the factory and workers.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood
all images courtesy of TON

 

 

with the place celebrating 160 years, the long history of TON can be perfectly likened to their chairs – full of twists yet seamless. it began with an innovator, a place, and a product; michael thonet built the bent furniture plant in bystřice pod hostýnem, nowadays czech republic, in 1861. surviving both world wars, nationalization in the era of communism, and many name changes along the way, TON – an abbreviation of továrna ohýbaného nábytku translating to bent furniture factory – has manually curved furniture in the same workshop ever since. michael thonet compartmentalized each section of the modern chair, with workers specialized in one task only. paired with unique technologies, the new system revolutionized the industry.

 

it was like henry ford’s model A in the chair industry,explains alexander gufler, art director at TON, in an interview with designboom.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

a lot of things have changed over the last 160 years but the factory, people and chairs have been constant,’ continues their art director.

 

bystřice pod hostýnem became the center of the company. michael thonet created an ecosystem. he understood the need to care for employees; he built houses for them and their families, schools to educate, and even brought the railway to the town. and, likewise, TON became the hub of the community. this sense is still felt to this day. there is a personal connection throughout the company, even with fathers and sons working together in teams in the factory. TON is the local culture.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

there is a reason for the setting of TON – step out of the factory into bystřice pod hostýnem and you will immediately be surrounded by beech forests. the woodland is the source of material for their making, and all at the brand loves the timber. although best known for it – look at chairs 002, 18 or 30 to name but a few – TON are wood experts rather than just wood benders. they craft with ply, solid and bent wood.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

from day one in 1861, this place has made products that were never before possible, and TON continues this mission. their chairs, tables, and furnishing accessories have always been handcrafted to last generations. whilst wood-bending has remained unchanged, other techniques and technologies – and even the product line-up – has been updated to fit the modern day. their portfolio is shifting from chairs to seating topologies that offer a wider scope of usability. however, no matter whether an icon or a novelty, each single piece of their furniture is guided by a mission of timelessness in style, quality and sustainability.

 

we are in the middle of a process,’ begins alexander. ‘as is typical of TON, we are using the coronavirus crisis to reinvent. in the past, we were highly focused on chairs and a few tables, for example, but now, we are transitioning towards more seating topologies. this is instead of creating one chair after another, which then basically eats away from one another. our product portfolio is becoming more clean.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

it is this locality of materials, the care of the community crafters, and the style of the designs that ensure TON’s products can be passed down for generations. their items create strong, personal bonds with the owners. the brand is even planning to introduce a repair service, where customers can bring in old or greatly used TONs and they will fix it, from the cane weaving to bent wood structure. the concept aims to increase longevity ever more so, meaning your parent’s or grandparent’s treasured chair can be reinvigorated.

 

longevity plays a part in creating an emotional connection between our products and customers. we want users to keep them for as long as possible. TON is the opposite to a fast furniture approach. our customers receive something special that they can pass on for generations,’ notes alexander.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

TON could produce and repair their iconic designs forever it seems, such is the demand for them. but heritage always comes hand-in-hand with innovation. the challenge is how to present something new with such a long, famed history. their answer is to turn to contemporary designers to reinterpret their unique techniques and traditions. it can be a long process to understand their history, material characteristics, and the overall culture. it is an evolution, and 2021 brings about this exciting change.

 

it is a long hand-in-hand process,’ comments alexander. ‘the designers need to be willing to make the journey with us. some were creatives we wanted to work with for years but weren’t able to; others were completely new to us but instantly a perfect fit. we like to have a personal relationship with everyone: employees, collaborators and customers. our designers are part of our history, not a marketing tool.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

 

 

a lot of things have changed over the last 160 years but the factory, craftsmanship of people and chairs have been constant,’ repeats alexander gufler, art director at TON. it is this specific culture, emanating from their home in bystřice pod hostýnem, that makes the brand so special. their factory is right by the forest they source from, meaning the products – whether an icon or a novelty from 2021 – really do come from one place. it is a rarity nowadays; it is why there is only one TON.

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

TON furniture: the history of one innovator, a community and bent wood

ton-furniture-history-michael-thonet-bentwood-interview-designboom01

 

 

brand info:

 

brand: TON

location: bystřice pod hostýnem, czech republic

art director: alexander gufler

 

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