Cáfe chair by Michael Thonet from 1859
The CH24 by Hans Wegner - widely known as the Wishbone Chair but in Denmark called the Y Chair - was commissioned by Carl Hansen and Son and has been in production since 1950.
It is a fascinating design for many reasons.
It followed on, in Wegner's work, from his design of the Round Chair but was to be simpler and cheaper to produce and it is said that it was meant to be a Danish version of the Thonet café chair so lighter in weight than most dining chairs but robust.
This does not seem particularly plausible until you look at a Wishbone chair straight on from the back and then you see exactly the profile of that Thonet chair with the hooped shape of the back.
In fact the Wishbone is a clear and deliberate development from the China chairs that Wegner worked on through the 1940s as the Wishbone has a relatively narrow and curved back piece or splat to support the sharply curved back rest that is not set horizontally but rises up from the front ends in a sweep up to the centre.
This sharply bent back rest has a flat inner face, so it does not stick into the back of the person sitting in the chair and the splat is actually forked - to form a pronounced Y that gives the chair its name.
Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs
Where the design moves on and away from the structural form of the China chairs is that those chairs have a box-like arrangement of vertical legs supporting the seat and usually with square cross sections whereas the Wishbone has elegantly tapered legs with the thickest part at the top where more wood is necessary to make it as strong as possible to take the tenons of the frames of the seat.
The front and back legs of the chair, from the seat down, have the same profile - making the design look simpler - although the back legs are closer together and are splayed out at a slightly greater angle to provide most stability under the centre point of the weight of the person when they are sitting down.
There are stretchers at the front and back and to the sides to keep the legs in place - so they do not spread apart or twist or torque and the stretchers also mean that the legs can be narrower. Chairs without stretchers need a stronger leg structure as the mortice and tenon joins that connects the frame of the seat to the top of the legs take all the load.
For the Wishbone Chair the front and back stretchers are relatively thin - turned and tapered spindles - but the side stretchers are flat with rounded top and bottom and thicker at the back than at the front. Here there is a very clever twist in the design. It is the bottom edge of the side stretcher that is set parallel to the floor making the side elevation look set square and stable and the top edge that is angled up from the front to the back to counter balance visually the slope of the seat that tips down slightly from front to back forming a wedge shape. This all gives a visual impression that it is the back of the chair that is bearing the weight of the person sitting in the chair.
The four pieces of the frame of the seat are gently bowed outwards which again makes the chair much more sophisticated … a country cousin with a rush seat normally has simple straight pieces of wood for the seat frame … but again there is a clever detail to the design of the Wishbone because the bow outwards of the front edge of the seat comes as far forward as the front point of the two front legs where they reach the floor. This might initially sound like an odd detail but if the front of the seat of a chair is forward of the foot of the front legs then there is the distinct possibility that the chair will tip forward as the person shifts their centre of balance forward to stand up.
There can be the same problem in the other direction when there are straight legs at the back of a chair so someone leaning back into the chair can tip over backwards. The angle back and out of the back legs of the Wishbone Chair actually make it difficult to tip backwards even deliberately … although you can do it if you really try so please don't.
The relatively novel and very distinctive feature of the Wishbone Chair is that the back legs are given a dramatic twist at the top so they are curved first forward and then back up to provide the support for the curve of the back rest.
… relatively novel in that in the 1940s both Ole Wanscher and Greta Jalk had designed chairs with a similar shape of support with a complex double curve and Wegner himself had used a similar piece but shorter as a side strut half way down the side of one chair to support the arm.
In the Wishbone Chair, the back rest has been refined and simplified as much as possible so it is a pronounced curve but a single curve and is in a single plane but higher to the centre at the back. So the back curves round to form the arm rests of the chair but these are relatively short - really elbow rest - which is better in a dining chair so that the lower part of the arms and wrists are not restricted as the person moves their hands around and across the table as they eat. The shorter arm rests also mean that it is easier to get in and out of the chair when it is drawn up to the table and the chair can be pushed closer to the table when no one is sitting down.
The seat of the chair is in paper cord and there are interesting details that show how carefully the chair design was thought through … so there has to be a slot immediately in front of the back splat - because the cords can't go around the frame itself - and on either side on the back frame of the seat there is a slight shoulder so the frame is cut back in so the exposed wood of the frame behind the splat and the sections to either side (so frame plus cord) actually line through. Paper cord gives a much less bulky seat than the alternative of using rush that is found in country chairs throughout Europe and actually that is a clue to the popularity of the Wishbone Chair and a way of describing its style. It is not a country chair … it is not a Van Gogh chair … it is much too refined and too precisely designed for that … but it claims some of the robust honesty of a country chair … so some of that odd careful balance that you get in modern furniture. Simple, honest, straightforward, vernacular furniture or country furniture is not the same as simple but refined modern furniture although the two seem to have much in common. It takes a lot of work to do simple so well.
produced by Carl Hansen & Son
height: 75 cm
width: 55 cm
depth: 51 cm
height of seat: 45 cm