The Biedermeier Style is one of the most thoroughly represented style periods in the Styylish catalog. That’s not only because it’s one of our favorite styles of furniture, but because it’s perfectly suited to the mission of Styylish: integrating unique (frequently antique) pieces into contemporary homes.
Biedermeier is so well suited to that objective because of its simplicity. It’s one of the most understated antique furniture styles, frequently featuring unadorned wood that speaks for itself with naturalism and the geometry of wood grains.
In this blog, we want to cover everything that defines Biedermeier Style. From the historical context of its period of development to its characteristics and its inherent traits, we will explore what makes it perfect for creative modern combinations.
Historical Context of Biedermeier Style
A Time of Change
The emergence of Biedermeier style coincided with the development of an industrial middle class. That’s the origin of its simple, straightforward philosophy, as well.
In part a rejection of the Empire and Directoire styles of the late 18th and early 19th century, Biedermeier started as an un-aristocratic style.
In the canon of furniture development, however, it represents a uniquely subdued period between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Some Biedermeier furniture, especially from Vienna, began to embody more and more romantic motifs.
The vast amount of Biedermeier, however, truly did embody rustic simplicity that felt more appropriate for the non-palatial homes of the new middle class. As such, the history of Biedermeier furniture is also the beginning of interior design for the ordinary home.
Although centuries have passed, that legacy lives on in Biedermeier. It’s a uniquely compatible style of furniture, that provides just the right amount of historical character to refine and elevate a contemporary home.
The Biedermeier Period arose out of the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. After decades of war and unrest, Europeans wanted peace. As a result, the ambitious reform movements and liberal ideas birthed in the French Revolution took a backseat.
But Europe had already changed. An inevitable result of years of popular unrest and economic changes caused by the Industrial Revolution left a whole new class of Europeans to dream bigger and want more. Thus, a middle class was born.
Despite their growing affluence, many middle-class citizens felt ambiguous about their standing and the future in a time when the status quo seemed preferable to more war. Domineering governments discouraged political activism, which led people to seek greater comfort in their own lives.
That trend captures the political context that gave birth to the Biedermeier style.
The Biedermeier Style in Art
These changes in Northern European culture brought developments in the arts, as well. Here, too, the focus of many artists became the contentment of the middle class and private lives.
Paintings of the period often depict people engaged in ordinary activities, such as embroidering, writing, or visiting with family and friends.
Characteristics of Biedermeier Furniture
Since the fixation of everyday life in the Biedermeier period emphasized the home, the most notable aspects of this style became furniture.
Neoclassical furniture underscored robust geometry, symmetry, and Greco-Roman themes. It was a style of imposing opulence, something that felt out of place in the smaller homes of the new middle class.
As a result, cabinetmakers began making more everyday pieces that fit into the homes of ordinary citizens. This trend led to a surge in innovative designs, particularly for chairs and sofas.
During the Biedermeier period, craftsmen created hundreds of variations of the simple chair. Additionally, the sofa became a favorite, blending comfort and function effectively.
But Biedermeier style furniture touched every aspect of interior décor, not just seating. Whether chair or table, desk or sofa, Biedermeier furniture was united by common traits.
General Furniture Characteristics
At the core of early Biedermeier furniture is an idea of sensibility and functionality. Clean lines and limited ornamentation conform to this utilitarian ideal. Indeed, subdued geometric forms typify early pieces of this period.
But as the middle class grew more comfortable with their position in society, their taste for elaborate decor evolved, and so did their furniture.
Design Inspiration and Materials
While Biedermeier represents a rejection of the opulence of Directoire/Empire styles, it was nevertheless inspired by those preceding periods. It maintained a focus on right angles, especially early in the period, while replacing the more delicate decorations of Directoire style with substantive wood.
While dark woods with ormolu mounts defined late 18th century furniture, Biedermeier construction associated closer with lighter woods, and rejected gold mounts out of hand.
Cabinetmakers primarily sourced locally available materials as they were more affordable than expensive woods like mahogany.
A light walnut veneer over a softwood frame was one of the most common combinations for Biedermeier pieces. Other woods used for Biedermeier veneers include:
- Bird’s eye maple
Biedermeier cabinetmakers refrained from metal ornamentation. Instead, veneer inlays became the primary decorative feature, emphasizing the patterned graining of wood. That eye for material simplicity makes these Biedermeier pieces especially compatible with modern sensibilities.
Construction promoted the ideal of precision through the material, a concept which later inspired the Arts & Crafts Movement, the direct forebearer of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
Indeed, the conversation between Biedermeier and Art Nouveau is especially visible in Viennese Biedermeier pieces, which were more romantic and decorative from the start.
Josef Danhauser and Viennese Biedermeier
Josef Ulrich Danhauser (1780-1829) was the most important Biedermeier furniture designer, creating elegant styles in his workshop in Vienna.
From 1804 until his death, he operated a furniture workshop in Vienna, at times employing as many as 350 workers who constructed his designs for furniture, sculptures, and home decor.
His particular disposition for romantic ideas and skill in woodworking represents the most forward-thinking work in the Biedermeier canon. When considering a Danhauser chair, for instance, the Art Nouveau period of a century later comes to life before one’s eyes.
For more information on Danhauser, read up on him on our blog.
Late Biedermeier Changes
By the end of the period, Biedermeier pieces had begun to capture a certain Romanticism that looked increasingly decorative and elaborate. The strict right angles of early Biedermeier eventually gave way to other traits:
- Curved lines over straight edges
- Embellished facades instead of plain surfaces
- Whimsical humanistic figures
- Experimental textures
“Living Island”: Inside a Biedermeier Living Room
Throughout the previous centuries, a slow division of living areas had begun to occur. The “all-purpose room” was superseded by the desire for separate spaces for individual activities, whether it was relaxing, cooking, eating, or sleeping.
Unlike the spacious palaces of the aristocracy, middle-class homes did not have space for various rooms for different activities. That problem gave rise to the concept of Wohninsel, or “living island.”
The concept of Wohninsel promoted the idea of a central all-purpose living room, separate from bedrooms, that made room for all kinds of leisure activities. That principle facilitated the development of utilitarian furniture in the Biedermeier period.
Out of this idea arose now common ideas like a communal table useful for dinner and other activities. Families felt a certain freedom to structure their Wohninsel in individual ways. That sensibility gave birth to the practice of interior design.
Furniture you might find in a middle-class living room during the Biedermeier period includes:
- an ottoman
- a round table
- a mirror
- armchairs or other seating upholstered in wool, silk, or damask
- a display cabinet
- A piano
Flowers, screens, work-tables, and other trinkets displayed in glass storage cabinets created an atmosphere of elegant, but functional, family life.
Styylish Biedermeier Style Furniture for Your Home
The very principles that allowed families to find creativity in their limited spaces underlie many facets of modern life. Incorporating Biedermeier pieces into your contemporary spaces is a fantastic way to give historical texture to an arrangement. Trust us – Biedermeier chairs go with your modern sofa.
Find a wide selection of beautiful, one-of-a-kind Biedermeier style pieces in the Shop. For more Styylish history, design ideas, and more, visit the Blog!