When Japanese lifestyle gurus Muji looked West for inspiration, seeking to explore new markets, they settled on the historic German manufacturer Thonet
(Image credit: Thonet)

When Japanese lifestyle gurus Muji looked West for inspiration, seeking to explore new markets, they settled on the historic German manufacturer Thonet, and two of Europe’s big name product designers. The resulting collection of furniture that came from this collaboration is a meeting of the best elements of all involved.

The 1850s and tubular steel furniture from the 1920

(Image credit: Thonet)

See the striking results of Muji's collaboration with German manufacturer Thonet

‘Muji manufactured by Thonet’ consists of a reinterpretation of two of Thonet’s pioneering techniques: bentwood from the 1850s and tubular steel furniture from the 1920s. Thonet’s Creative Director James Irvine took bentwood to task, creating a refined version of the classic 'No 1' chair from 1859, removing the more decorative support elements and adding a horizontal panel to the back of the chair, which when placed at the dining tables he also created, disappears in line with the tabletop.

Konstantin Grcic reimagined the Bauhaus tubular steel collection and came up with a cantilever floating office chair, reminiscent of Breuer’s B 32 and a matching desk, made from one length of steel tubing with a charcoal MDF tabletop.

All the products are manufactured, as the project’s title suggests, at Thonet’s HQ in Frankenberg and sold through Muji stores around the world. Aside from exploring new possibilities, pairing traditional techniques with contemporary designers’ visions, the initiative was to open up Thonet’s back catalogue to the younger, design-conscious and savvy audience of Muji.

Settling on a historic brand with a very similar aesthetic to the contemporary Japanese retailer and working with two individuals who propagate a rigorously industrial approach to design has resulted in a collection with extraodrinarily widespread appeal. You don’t need to be a design aficionado to appreciate the streamlined beauty of the furniture pieces, or to tell how well they’ve been made.

Muji’s prerogative was to make the new collections accessible pricewise without scrimping on the very high quality associated with Thonet’s manufacturing. And, take it from us, in terms of bang for your buck, you’d be hard pushed to find a more beautifully finished, reasonably priced collection of furniture on the market.

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.