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What exactly is Biedermeier Design?

Surely you’ve seen it. But do you truly understand this classic style?
Roxanne Robinson Feb 24, 2021
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Strolling through any estate sale reflective of a particular generation is bound to elicit a “Did you notice the Biedermeier?” comment. Or perhaps the family furnishings are passed on to younger generations, with a buzzy caveat to the lucky one getting ‘the Biedermeier,’ a furniture style so distinctive that anything falling under its umbrella is simply referred to as so.

What is Biedermeier Style Furniture?

So what exactly is the Biedermeier furniture style? First, it’s important to recall the era itself, Wedged between the Congress of Vienna and the Napoleonic Wars, roughly 1815 to 1848, though its influence in style would last longer. Industrialization and urbanization first marked this period. This resulted in the burgeoning middle class, aka bourgeoisie, with a common-sense interest in the arts. In Germany, the economic downturn of the period resulted in this stoic approach.

The name doesn’t refer to a particular person but rather a fictional character who was the result of satire. In fact, the word ‘Bieder’ in German means simple, while Meier is a common last name. It was a pseudonym - full name Gottlieb Biedermeier - that a German doctor and lawyer used to publish satirical poems. Hence, it became attached to the furniture style - though it was also an art and literature movement - conceived as simple, unadorned, and uncomplicated. Thus, this furniture was popular with the upwardly mobile folks who still had budgets to consider.

How to Identify Biedermeier Style Furniture

Biedermeier Design Market chair 2
Photo Courtesy of Joseph Ulrich Danhauser

At this particular time, the reigning style of furniture was the French Empire style which possessed a certain grandeur. This look consisted of striking and impressive dimensions, mahogany woods, gold gilding, and extreme ornamentation which recalled a romantic vision of ancient Roman Empire style. It was similar but not quite the same as Louis the 14th style of furniture. Obviously, this was connected to the Napoleonic era.

However, Biedermeier furniture was markedly different in that although influenced by this period, it was less ostentatious - preferring minimal adornment with its beauty formed in the simple, elegant often curved lines. It’s considered to be an influence of the Bauhaus and Art Deco periods as well by following the truth of the material when constructing. Additionally, affordability was another factor. Biedermeier furniture used local materials such as cherry, ash, and oak woods versus imported mahogany. Furthermore, it was stained and or left natural which led to pieces with mixed wood grain colors, another distinguisher of the Biedermeier style.

The Estate Sale: Biedermeier vs Reproduction

These days, particularly in the US, it is not that common to find authentic Biedermeier furniture at an estate sale. However, It does happen. Bob Goslin of Estate Sales Ltd. in Gurnee, IL has been managing estate sales for over 18 years. Any sightings or requests for Biedermeier come from the city’s prestigious North Shore communities. For example, he recalled one mansion with 17 bedrooms that had some pieces. Conversely, a woman seeking a unique piece for her rounded North Shore mansion entryway inquired if Goslin had come across a Biedermeier.

Biedermeier Design Market 1
Photo Courtesy of @yanamol IG

“Most of what I have come across are reproductions such as Drexel Heritage and Henredon,” says Goslin. The American brands which began in 1915 and 1945 respectively often recreated pieces in the Biedermeier style according to Goslin who himself owns a Biedermeier reproduction chest found at one an estate sale he attended in Chicago. He feels this look works in almost any decor. “Biedermeier is timeless - it’s still elegant and it’s that unusual piece that draws attention when you walk into the room,” he says.

Incorporating Biedermeier Style Furniture into your Home Today

Whereas this furniture dates back almost 200 years, it is understandable to have difficulty envisioning this look in a modern home. But there are ways to incorporate the style into even the most modern of homes. For instance, some rooms can call for an accent piece that is conversational. To explain, this could mean a piece that holds some similarities in regards to line and proportion but whose surface value is distinct from other pieces. Moreover, in the case of a piece that requires upholstery, a textile could be used to recover the piece that gives it a more contemporary spin. Because of its sleek curves, Biedermeier sits well with today’s furniture more than it may initially suggest.

The Aesthetics of Biedermeier

Below Nest Casa breaks down the 4 most common pieces of Biedermeier furniture and their distinguishing marks.

1. The Chair

Certainly one of the most recognizable Biedermeier styles is the dining chair. Generally, this is marked by a curved-fan seat back that narrows from the base of the chair and expands into a decorative finish. Likewise, even when a traditional tiered-plank square back is used, the wood is curved so that the back arches to some degree.

Editors’ Picks:

Malvezzi

Set of 4 Seats Biedermeier Merlino
$4,470.00 BUY NOW

1stDIBS

Biedermeier Desk Chair, circa 1820
$2,855.56 BUY NOW

2. The Chest

A Biedermeier chest, which can also double as a sideboard, is ultimately another one of the most popular pieces to recognize this iconic style. This piece shown here from German antique dealer Felix Bachmann exemplifies many of the style’s attributes. To demonstrate, notice the multiple drawers. Generally, this organizational feature was common for a Biedermeier chest. It also has varying shades of wood and distinguishing curves.

Editors’ Picks:

1stDIBS

Continental Biedermeier Influenced Light Walnut Neoclassic Commode, circa 1825
$12,900.00 BUY NOW

1stDIBS

Original Biedermeier Blanket Chest with Round Lid with Polish Veneer, circa 1820
$3,600.49 BUY NOW

3. The Sofa

A Biedermeier sofa ultimately speaks to the most elegant aspect of the style. With its curved sides ending in a comma shape and co-joining curved base, the Biedermeier sofa is also timeless in its beauty. Moreover, it’s easy to see how with modern upholstery and ample cushions this sofa not only imbues awe but also conveys a sense of comfort expected in today’s home furnishings.

Editors’ Picks:

1st DIBS

19th Century Swedish Biedermeier Sofa Settee in Birch Wood
$9,800.00 BUY NOW

Chairish

Duncan Phyfe Settee, New York, Circa 1816
$21,000.00 BUY NOW

4. The Desk

Equally, if not more so, the Biedermeier desk is practical. Additionally, it generally has the dual purpose of serving as a desk and designed with the purpose of eliminating clutter. For instance, a key feature of a Biedermeier desk is that it folds away either via a drop-down writing surface or opens via side doors that reveal the drop down there. When not in use, this handy piece of furniture stands dignified and enticing to gaze upon.

Editors’ Picks:

1stDIBS

19th Century Unique Restored Austrian Biedermeier Walnut Writing Desk, 1830s
$4,159.19 BUY NOW

1stDIBS

19th Century Austrian Biedermeier Antique Writing Table Desk, circa 1825-1845
$2,450.00 BUY NOW

Editor's Picks: Accessories

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Fine Biedermeier Austrian Lime Wood Mirror
$4,600.00 BUY NOW

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Pair of 3-Light Silver Candelabra Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy Prague, 1863
$4,221.27 BUY NOW

Roxanne Robinson
Roxanne Robinson is an award-winning Paris-based American journalist covering luxury and fashion industries with over 25 years of experience. I spent over 18 years at WWD, covering sportswear, accessories and fine jewelry. My career witnessed the shift from print media to the digital age. I gained expert knowledge of the design world, wholesale and retail markets as well as the marketing that supports them. I met endless creatives and business people who create luxury from inception to POS with the consumer. My work has appeared in Forbes.com, BoF, The Hollywood Reporter, CRFashionbook.com, The Jewelry Journal as well in-house publications and websites at Bally, Pomellato, Au Depart and Editorialist.com among others.
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