Sarah-Jane runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her monthly blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds, vintage-hunting experiences and the stories she discovers along the way. This month she uncovers the story of the Tolix ‘Model A’ chair, a revived design classic
As a dealer, it’s immensely satisfying to steer folk who are yet to discover vintage towards a world of enticing interior bargains. Another joy is witnessing the resurgence of iconic designs from heritage brands, which are an easy way to introduce a vintage aesthetic for those who, between children, work and all the daily chores, struggle to find the time for a good rummage at a flea.
As any issue of Homes & Antiques will testify, real quality and style never fades. Particularly in recent years, companies such as Lloyd Loom and Ercol have been revisiting designs that are as covetable now as they were when they were first produced. New editions of iconic pieces can come with a hefty price tag but, happily, the originals can cost less, depending upon condition and rarity. Take a current favourite: the Tolix chair.
It is likely that you would instantly recognise these metal chairs even if you don’t know the maker. Thanks to the trend for industrial vintage, Tolix has become the seat du jour.
It was Xavier Pauchard (1880-1948) who created the first Tolix ‘Model A’ prototype. Following in his family tradition – Pauchard came from a line of zinc roofers – in 1907 he discovered that he could prevent sheet metal rusting by dipping it into molten zinc, thus becoming the first Frenchman to discover galvanising.
Ten years later, Pauchard was in charge of a company making sheet metal domestic goods. He registered the brand name Tolix in 1927 and set about creating a range of chairs and stools by hand, hammering and shaping the metal, welding it together then dipping it into molten zinc for the unique galvanised coating. Each chair had a supportive crossbar beneath the seat – Pauchard’s trademark ‘X’, his first name initial.
Production began in Autun, France (still home to the Tolix factory today) and the ‘Model A’ chair was manufactured more for its functional strength than its appearance. Hospitals, factories and ships were first to be furnished with these stackable chairs due to their robust, workaday nature.
It was their practicality, however, that caught on. By the 1950s, cafes were increasingly using these weatherproof chairs, even though some owners complained that the chairs were too difficult to stack. In response to demand, the design was tweaked to allow easier stacking of 25 chairs at a time and the design remains the same to this day.
Tolix also expanded into a smaller range for children named ‘La Mouette’, which was overseen by Pauchard’s son Jean and was first introduced in 1935. Jean and his team of 80 workers were producing an incredible 60,000 pieces each year by the end of the 1950s.
Despite a second wave of popularity in the 1980s and early 90s thanks to Terence Conran’s discovery of the brand, production tailed towards the end of the 1990s and the company, which had remained in the Pauchard family, went bankrupt in 2004.
The reason you can now find Tolix chairs everywhere from boutique coffee shops to Anthropologie’s summer catalogue (pictured above) is thanks to Chantal Andriot. Previously financial director of the company, she and a handful of workers decided to bring Tolix back to life and relaunched the iconic chair in vibrant pops of colour. The resurgence of the industrial look was timely too and, today, Tolix exports all over the world with half of production bound for the USA.
Along with chairs and stools in nearly 50 different shades, Tolix now offers tables, storage cupboards, shelving and desks. A small stool costs £104 while the classic steel chair is yours for £136. For those with a penchant for space-age style, you must take a look at the white ‘Cylindres Bi’ wardrobe.
Scanning flea markets, as I am wont to do, I have spotted a fair few of these chairs around. Be wary though, as many are Tolix replicas and not the real thing. After browsing eBay, however, I was excited to find originals: one untouched barstool started at only £29.95 and a few stripped and polished chairs from £205. It seems that with a little research you can snap up an original for a song and this is the season to buy them. Thanks to Pauchard’s galvanised steel, they make ideal seats for al fresco summer feasts.
I love stories of the turnaround of heritage companies – how the fate of fashion plays its hand along with the enduring appeal of quality. It really does seem to me that it’s the survival of the fittest or, perhaps, the most stylish.
Tweet Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm. Find new Tolix furniture to buy at madeindesign.co.uk or conranshop.co.uk
Photograph: Katya de Grunwald
Styling: Marisa Daly