An update for chair 404 by Stefan Diez – how a modern classic remains vibrant

Oak replaces beech, with ergonomic enhancements – and a place in a Munich design museum

For the 10 year anniversary of the successful wooden chair 404, designer Stefan Diez and Thonet decided to make a few adjustments to keep this iconic design in touch with the times. Therefore, the streamlined 404, plus the slightly wider version, the 404 F, and the barstool 404 H are now constructed from oak instead of beech. The natural beauty of the oak timber and tactile finish of the surface, which provide the chair with a fresh and inviting touch, appealed to a designer known for careful attention to materials. The colour choices have also been augmented: In addition to the natural oak version, six shades of colour stains – some more discrete, some boldly hued – are also now available. The incline of the backrest, which is now formed on three planes, has been ergonomically improved, making these popular chairs even more comfortable.

The selection of the 404 chair to feature in the ‘Neue Sammlung’ – The Design Museum at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich – confirms that even a relatively young design of particular quality can meet the criteria to be considered a classic. The museum will not only add the complete chair 404 to its collection in September 2018, but will include a representation of the entire process of its creation, including prototypes mock-ups, and a disassembled version of the design.

The 404 programme, which also pays homage to the famous Vienna Coffee House Chair 214 and the bentwood armchair 209, historic models in the Thonet portfolio, is characterised by a distinctive construction principle. Diez had the innovative idea to merge the bentwood chair legs with the armrests into a kind of “knot”, and to then fix this entire section to the underside of the seat. This technique was enabled by the modern plywood and moulded wood technologies for which Thonet is renowned: The ergonomically shaped seat is thus reinforced at its centre, while towards its edges the material can be considerably reduced. This clever ‘knot’ connection then dispenses with any need for notches or screws.

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“With the 404, I wanted to interpret Thonet’s bentwood classics and translate the idea behind them into the 21st century. The design is based on a simple idea that is realised through modern production methods – and that’s how it was in Michael Thonet’s day,” Stefan Diez explains his approach. “The 404 was designed not to be a ‘trendy’ product, but rather to continue the company’s tradition. I think that this principle has succeeded.” Norbert Ruf, Creative Director at Thonet, is also enthusiastic: “Thanks to these latest adjustments, our customers receive range 404 as an absolutely matured product which has gained in relevance over the years.”

The renewal of the 404 programme at the occasion of its 10th anniversary also sees the changeover to regionally sourced oak wood, which replaces the beech used in the past. “Oak especially convinces due to its striking grain. I wanted the wood structure to show even with the new, bright stain shades. It fits well with the lightness of the design,” says Diez. Due to its long fibres, oak wood lends itself particularly well to the bentwood process. “Wood – and oak wood in particular – has the great property of being elastic without breaking. You can only do something like the 404, which in principle is a sculpture in space, with wood,” the designer adds. For the new version, the incline of the slightly flexing backrest was ergonomically adjusted and slightly curved out towards the back, creating a chair that does not prescribe any specific seating position, thus offers even greater comfort for today.

From summer 2018 onwards, chair 404, the armchair version 404 F and the matching barstool 404 H have been made of oak wood and are available in the following colours: oak natural (lacquered or brightened), white varnished, or stained in black, dark brown, walnut, rusty red or lemon yellow.

A youthful museum piece – the 404 in the Neue Sammlung München

The Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich is one of the largest and most important museums for applied 20th and 21st century art worldwide. It is considered to house the leading collections in the fields of industrial and product design. Stefan Diez: “When we developed the 404, I had the desire to design a wooden chair that would fit with the Thonet tradition, which started in the mid-19th century. Having this design added to the Neue Sammlung, this wish has come true, and naturally this makes me very proud.”

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