October 16 2009
Lucia van der Post
Muji goes on getting better and better. I first discovered it when it was a small cult store in Tokyo simply called the No Label shop and, ever since, I’ve followed its doings with awe. It offers astonishing value for money (a wooden salad bowl for £8.95, anyone?) as well as some of the chicest stationery around.
Not all Muji fans, though, have clocked that it does furniture, too, or that just recently it has embarked on an exciting venture with the German furniture maker Thonet to “reinterpret” what it describes (accurately) as “two historically important styles of furniture”: the curved wooden bistro chair originally designed by Michael Thonet in the 1840s and known as the No 14 (between 1859 and 1939 some 40m were sold, a fantastic tribute to its perennial appeal), and a collection of tubular steel furniture inspired by the work of the Bauhaus, the German school of design.
What Muji and Thonet have done between them is to go back to first principles – which is to say they’ve tried to make them as economically and beautifully as possible. Both Thonet and the Bauhaus originally had very high-minded social ambitions, intending to make fine furniture that was within reach of “everyman”. The pieces, over time, came to be associated with high-priced luxury and a Thonet chair today, made to the original design in the same Frankenberg factory, would cost more than £400.
The Muji version (pictured) is a variation on the theme, with a panel to support the back and a seat made from beech plywood or mesh. It’s robust but very light and sells for £215 with the wooden seat or £250 with the mesh. Meanwhile, the tubular steel desk (£250-£295) looks very modernist and very much in the mood of the Bauhaus original, while the other pieces, the steel shelf (£110), the tubular steel chair (£215) and the tubular steel low table (in three sizes, £225-£275) echo its mood.