What is a Bistro Chair?

Erika Peterson

The bistro chair is a versatile chair that is used in restaurants, caf├ęs and residential homes around the world. It fits comfortably in every era, and it even ages well. According to some, as the chair matures and the structure loosens, it becomes softer and molds itself into an even nicer piece of furniture. Though most manufacturers have yet to improve upon or even replicate the original wooden chair, many have produced copycat styles using plastic or metal. These chairs are used both indoors and outdoors as functional and stylish seating options.

Bistro chairs may be used both indoors and in outdoor settings.
Bistro chairs may be used both indoors and in outdoor settings.

The bistro chair has a rich and interesting history. It began with Michael Thonet, a German-Austrian who lived between 1796 and 1871. Michael began his career as a cabinet maker after a carpenter's apprenticeship. He worked independently for many years, building his reputation as a quality craftsman, and in the 1830s he aspired to make furniture out of bonded wooden slats. His first success was in 1836 when he created the Boppard layerwood chair. This chair was a close cousin the bistro chair of today.

Bistro chairs are commonly seen in coffee shops and sidewalk cafes.
Bistro chairs are commonly seen in coffee shops and sidewalk cafes.

In 1849, Thonet joined together with his five sons to begin his own bentwood furniture business. The following year, he produced Chair No. 1, which was awarded the bronze medal at the World Exposition in London. Four years later at the Paris World Exposition, he earned a silver medal. He was constantly improving on production and expanding his company. But perhaps his biggest success was in 1859, when he created the Bistro Chair No. 14.

The simple, classic and distinctive design of the bistro chair was made up of only six wooden components and held together by two nuts and ten screws. It earned the Thonet brothers the gold medal at the 1867 Paris World Exposition. The sleek No. 14 bistro chairs chairs were selling around the world in numbers reaching 50 million by 1930.

The practical and economical, yet beautifully shaped and easily disassembled chairs probably account for their enormous success. By the time Michael Thonet died in 1871 at the age of 75, his company with such a modest beginning boasted offices in almost 20 countries. The Bistro Chair No. 14 is still considered to be the "chair of chairs," its timeless model still being used in countless restaurants, homes, offices, and coffee shops around the world.

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Discussion Comments


Bistro chairs are also great to use at home bars and breakfast tables. They are small enough to keep out of the way, yet large enough to be comfortable. Bistro chairs also look great and stylish when used in these area of the home.


I think that bistro chairs also look very pretty placed in flower gardens. Not only are they decorative, but they provide comfortable seating for gardeners or for people who want to stop in the garden and smell the flowers for a while.


Tall bistro chairs are fabulous with a bistro table. The set looks great in any room, and is compact enough to fit in tight spaces. I also like the looks of a bistro set on a deck or patio. This type of furniture has so many uses and is great for eating a snack, having a drink, or sharing conversation with a friend.

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