A Thonet-style snake around home - Legno Curvato

A Thonet-style snake around home

A Thonet-style snake around home

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An ancient Egyptian symbol for motherhood and regeneration of life. It’s the incarnation of evil and temptation for Christianity.

According to the European avant-gardes of the early 1900s, it represents sensuality, eroticism and femininity.

In Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Hoffmann’s Austria Felix, the cultural capital of Europe, it is possible to witness the last metamorphosis of the snake.

It turns into an apparently ordinary object: an umbrella stand.

I’m talking about the extremely rare “Thonet Snake”, an object of desire for merchants and collectors from all over the world.

This object is not ordinary nor banal at all. Not even its restoration can be judged as easy to do. Let’s discover why. I have seen it first-hand.


Gebrüder Thonet 1904 catalogue

The snake with legs

It appears in the 1904 Gebrüder Thonet catalogue as an umbrella stand and will be part of it just for a few years. In the catalogue of 1911, there is no sign of the Thonet Snake.

It is produced both with an aluminium drip tray and without it, therefore as a cane holder. In fact, in many models, the drip tray is fixed to the legs by means of two iron bars inserted in special holes.

The model in our possession presents no holes. Probably our snake was bought more than 100 years ago just with the aim of storing walking sticks.

An enchanting object for a few privileged

In the catalogue, it is not presented among the two rows of umbrella stands in production, but it’s highlighted between two amazing room dividers. It is a luxury model, the most expensive.

The Thonet Snake costs 24 crowns, the other models range from a minimum of 7.40 to a maximum of 16 crowns. A remarkable amount considering that with the same sum you can buy four chairs No. 14 or even a rocking chair No. 10.

This object has no special hardware, no Vienna straw or upholstering.  But where does this price come from?

A very high production cost certainly affects the final price. It’s mainly due to two construction peculiarities:


The long coiled snake that forms the stand

The long spiral that makes the shape of a stand consists of two sticks glued together, with a total length of 5.20 m. The tail and the head are then connected to the sticks with oblique cut connections.

This coil does not realize an ordinary cylindrical stand, in fact, it tapers in the lower part. Similarly, we can notice a tapering of the rod: it has a cross-section of over 3 cm near the head and reaches the tail with a cross-section of just 2 cm.

These details are not negligible. It is this continuous cross profile variations that give this vintage objects a refined style. This is only possible thanks to handwork.

This kind of craftsmanship to date is really expensive, that’s the reason why few companies (if any) are introducing this virtuosity in their contemporary bentwood production.

The giant coil is actually a big spring. With a light pressure of your hand, you can make it bounce and you can even squeeze the coils of the snake almost together.

This is the magic of bentwood. The elasticity is the key to the incredible resistance to stress. A bentwood object is flexible, therefore indestructible.

The head and legs

The head and the paws at the base of the four tapered legs supporting the snake are essentially carved in the wood; by hand, one by one.

This needs a skilled worker and a lot of time. Therefore, a considerable cost.


Thonet serpente

(left) Normal – (centre) Charged with 5 Kg – (right) Charged with 10 Kg

Study for a perfect restoration

Let’s come to the restoration work, aware that only knowledge can allow us to make no mistakes, doing a valuable Thonet restoration work with all the trimmings.

We plumbed the depths of time, analysed books, manuals, videos on the net and collected as much information as possible about the age, the structure and specific characteristics of our snake.

Then, we started to understand how to operate.



Diagnosis of a snake

We notice positive aspects such as the absence of woodworms and of bends deformation, the presence of the original screws. But a careful examination highlights two very specific problems as well:

The paws are incomplete. The lateral “fingers” made with additional pieces connected to the bent rod are missing. This structure is determined by bending requirements and presents this kind of problem over time. It’s above all due to the rigidity of the animal glue used in the past. In fact, that glue badly absorbs the movements of a bent piece.

The colour is not the original one. In fact, the knurled glueing surfaces of the missing parts of the paws are black. Probably the whole object was roughly dyed on that occasion. In fact, black barely covers the parts that are visible from above. If you look at the snake upside down, it is blond.

Rebuilding the legs and restoring the original colour of the natural beech wood is therefore necessary.

The snake can be fixed with an accurate stripping and some re-glueing. The paws represent a more difficult problem.



Leg reconstruction

Once we found some photos of other Thonet snakes and the right dimensions, we just have to glue together two rough pieces of beech from which we have to carve the missing part out. Exactly as one hundred years ago.

I decided to use over 80 years old recycled pieces of a beech parquet flooring. This offers compactness and oxidation similar to the characteristics of the beech used for our stand. And, therefore, a more harmonious colour integration.

With definite references, a bit of experience and a lot of patience we get to work. Today just as then.

By hand, with files, chisels and sandpaper, we give shape to our paw following the harmony of each original piece. Obviously, not even the original paws were identical to one another.



The right finishing touches

Several hours of work, achy hands, and all the pieces are ready for polishing. Then it’s time for shellac, a careful reassembly work with the original screws we kept aside, and our snake is on its legs, again, in a dazzling form.

Ready for our exhibits. We will give it the right space and a very special place where you will admire it in all its glory (and maybe touch it, if we are there with you).

His bite does not kill but is certainly able to enchant you. Will you resist the snake’s temptation?


Architect lent to antiques, I started with a Thonet 17, then I went on studying bentwood and I never stopped. I held conferences, curated exhibitions, collaborated with magazines and books with Giovanni Renzi such as Thonet 14 and Liberty, natura e materia. Collector and restoration expert, In Torreglia, near Padua, I have my unique atelier-exhibition dedicated to the Thonet design with a large collection of objects end of the 19th-early 20th century.

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