The CH24 Wishbone Chair, an Enduring Design Classic
The Wishbone Chair or CH24 was the very first chair Hans J. Wegner designed for Carl Hansen & Søn in 1949. It has been in continuous production since its introduction in 1950.
Hans J. Wegner
Danish furniture designers consider Wegner among the most innovative, creative, and prolific. Often called the master of the chair, Wegner created almost 500 of them in his lifetime. Many are masterpieces, but the one that stands out is the Wishbone Chair.
Central to Wegner’s legacy is his focus. He brings the inner workings of the furniture to the outside. By moving the chair’s soul in this way, it is easy to appreciate its functionality and simplicity.
His background was as a cabinet maker, but when he set about designing the Wishbone, Wegner’s choice was to combine the armrest and the backrest into one single piece. Wegner developed the characteristic Y-shaped back to give stability to the steam-bent top. He also aimed to ensure comfortable support.
The Wishbone Chair
Using the original Wegner design, a Wishbone Chair is constructed with 14 individual and separate components. The furniture makers apply 100 processes to carve, chisel, shape and sand. This adds almost three weeks of preparation time even before the chair can start to be assembled.
The 100 steps are in the main carried out by hand. The seat is hand-woven and on its own takes a skilled craftsman around 60 minutes to create. It involves in the region of 120 meters of paper cord. This cord’s impressive stability and durability make the chair both long-lasting and strong. The Wishbone Chair is comfortable and stable. It also offers an aesthetic that satisfies any desire for an elegant, distinctive form.
How the Wishbone Chair Developed
In the chronology of Wegner’s work, it followed his design of the Round Chair. But the Wishbone was simpler and cheaper to produce. Although robust, it was also lighter in weight than most dining chairs. People consider it as a Danish version of the No 14 Thonet café chair. As well as the CH24 Wegner created four (less famous but also striking) other designs CH22, CH23, CH25 and CH26.
To see the similarity with the No 14 Thonet café chair in the profile you need to study a Wishbone chair looking straight on from the chair’s back. This is how you can glean the Thonet chair influences with the hooped shape of the back. The Wishbone is also a deliberate and clear development of the China chairs Wegner worked on throughout the 1940s.
The original idea for the Wishbone’s streamlined mix of sharp angles and curves came to Wegner’s mind from the images he had seen of the high-backed, wide-seated thrones much used by members of the Ming dynasty.
The Wishbone Chair’s Back
The Wishbone has a narrow and curved splat or back piece that supports the curved backrest. This rest is not set on the horizontal but rises from the front ends in a sweep up to the centre.
There is a flat inner face to the bent backrest. This means it does not protrude into the back of whoever is sitting in the chair. The splat is forked and forms the pronounced Y that lends itself to the chair’s name.
The design moves away from the China chairs’ structural form with vertical legs in an arrangement that looks like a box. These support the seat, often with square cross-sections.
The Wishbone Chair’s Legs
The Wishbone has tapered legs. The thickest part is at the top. Here 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 share the same profile from the seat down. This makes the design appear simpler. Although it has to be said, the back legs are closer together. They also splay out at a greater angle. This provides the greatest stability under the centre point of a person’s weight when they sit down.
To keep the legs in place, stretchers have been situated not just at the front and back but also to the sides. It means the legs cannot spread apart or torque and the stretchers also allow the legs to be narrower. Chairs that lack stretchers need to have a much more robust leg structure. This is because the tenon and mortice joints that connect the seat’s frame to the leg tops are required to take the entire load.
With the Wishbone Chair, the front and back stretchers are quite thin. Although the spindles are turned and tapered, the side stretchers are flat with rounded tops and bottoms. They are also thicker at the back than they are at the front. Here there is a clever twist.
The bottom of the side stretcher is arranged parallel to the floor. This makes the side’s elevation look stable and set square. The top edge is at an angle from the front to the back. This counterbalances the visual aspect of the seat’s slope. This tips down from front to back and forms a wedge shape. The result is a visual impression that the chair’s back is what bears the weight of the person in the chair.
The Wishbone Chair’s Frame
The four pieces of the seat’s frame bow outwards. This makes the chair seem much more sophisticated. A normal seat with a rush seat has simple straight pieces of wood for the seat frame.
Another clever detail of the Wishbone design is due to the way the seat’s front edge bows outwards. This makes it come forward as far as the front of the two front legs where they touch the floor.
If the front of a chair’s seat is forward of the feet of the front legs there is a danger the chair will tip as the person shifts to stand up and move their centre of balance forward.
The same problem can occur in the other direction. This is when there are straight legs at the back of a chair. It means someone leaning back into the chair can tip over backwards with ease. The Wishbone’s angled back legs make it difficult to tip backwards.
A novel and distinctive feature of the Wishbone Chair is due to the back legs having a dramatic twist at the top. They curve first forward and then back up to offer support for the backrest.
The Wishbone Chair’s backrest has undergone a simplification. This has created a pronounced, single curve that is in a single plane but higher to the centre at the back.
As a result, the back curves around to form the chair’s armrests. These are quite short elbow rests. This is better in a dining chair. It means the lower part of a person’s arms and wrists are not restricted.
It is more beneficial for the sitter, especially when that person moves their hands around and across the table as they eat. Shorter armrests also mean it is easier to get in and out of the chair. This is good when the chair is close to the table. The chair can move closer to the table when no one is sitting down.
The Wishbone Chair’s Seat
Paper cord is the medium used for the seat of the chair. Almost 122 metres of this paper cord is woven into the Wishbone Chair’s geometric seat design. The rumour is that the cord has a life-cycle of 50 years.
There are aspects of the Wishbone’s design that contain interesting details. These show how the chair developed. There has to be a slot immediately in front of the back splat. This is because the cords can’t go around the frame itself. There also is a slot on either side on the seat’s back frame.
The paper cord creates a less bulky seat than the alternative rush used in country chairs throughout Europe. It is a clue to the popularity of the Wishbone Chair and a way of describing its style. Not like a country chair, or a Van Gogh chair, the Wishbone is too designed and refined for that. But it is able to claim some of a country chair’s robust honesty.
Honest, straightforward, vernacular furniture is not the same as modern furniture that is simple and refined. But the two do seem to have much in common. It takes a lot of work to do simple as well.