Contemporary furniture producer TON is the long-living Czech incarnation of the legendary Thonet company—the oldest surviving furniture manufacturer in the world—founded by German-Austrian cabinetmaker and entrepreneur Michael Thonet in the late 19th century. An acronym for “Továrna ohýbaného nábytku” (in Czech, “Factory for bentwood furniture”), TON nominally refers to the Bystřice pod Hostýnem-based factory that Thonet himself established in 1861.
Bystřice pod Hostýnem was chosen as the site for TON thanks to its abundance of skilled labor and beech wood, the crucial raw material for Thonet's signature steam-bent wood furniture. The factory quickly blossomed into the primary manufacturing base (out of, eventually, seven) for the greater Thonet. By 1912, the company there employed 2000 workers, who yielded, annually, a range both prolific and pioneering—about 445,000 total pieces of Thonet’s tables, storage pieces, and, most iconically, chairs.
Like all iteration of Thonet’s designs, TON’s bentwood forms are characterized by clean lines, reduced ornamentation, and an emphasis on functionalist principles. Specific standouts from this collection—so revered, actually, that TON still produces them today—include: Rocking Chair No. 1 (1860); No. 14 Café Chair (ca. 1859); Adolf Loos Café Museum Chair (1899); No. 209 Armchair (ca. 1900); No. 30 Armchair (ca. 1903, and a particular favorite of Le Corbusier); Otto Wagner No. 247 Postal Savings Bank Chair (1904); and Josef Hoffmann No. 811 (1925).
World Wars I and II—and the attendant wide-ranging socio-political impacts—fractured the Thonet empire. In 1923, amid diminishing profits, Thonet was forced to merge with Austro-Hungarian furniture manufacturer Kohn-Mundus, forming Thonet-Mundus, who, among other things, purchased the license to produce the bent tubular steel designs of Bauhaus masters such as Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Mart Stam. Amid the Nazi rise to power, the company waded through years of upheaval, undergoing a series of headquarter relocations (to Switzerland; to the US) and changes to its ownership structure, before splintering in the postwar period. In 1946, the factory in Bystřice pod Hostýnem became a national enterprise and in 1953 was officially named TON, to distinguish itself against surviving Thonet constitutents (e.g., Gebrüder Thonet Vienna GmbH ).
Active since it’s renaming, TON established itself as a design brand as part of the company’s restructuring at the end of the Cold War, when it became a state-owned enterprise. Using some of the factory’s original machines and molds—and collaborating with modern talents that span from Arik Levy to Alex Gufler and Lucie Koldová—today’s TON produces a range of furniture, tables, and accessories that marries the company’s time-honored methods with the principles and forms of contemporary design.
Since 2011, their portfolio has garnered heaps of international decoration, including the Red Dot Design Award (2011, for their plywood-molded Merano Armchair; 2016, for their Arik Levy-designed Split loungechair); the Good Design award (2011, for Merano; 2013, for their Thomas Feichtner-designed Tram chair and cantilevered Mojo armchair, designed by Michael Riabič); and the iF Design Award (2015, for their bent-plywood Merano Chair; 2017, for their Leaf Chair, designed by Italian designers E-ggs), among others.