More than a Surface: Re-Introducing the Biedermeier Desk

Biedermeier drop front desk- three-inside of the writing compartment- Styylish

A Biedermeier desk is the kind of antique that can transform your office or living room. For frequent readers of our blog, it should come as no surprise that we at Styylish are big fans of the Biedermeier period. In some ways, the Biedermeier name has become synonymous with functional simplicity and high-quality craftsmanship.

We’ve written about it a lot. From an early coverage of the History and Characteristics of Biedermeier Furnitureto a more recent Buying Guide to Biedermeier, it’s one of our most popular styles.

Biedermeier Wardrobe- styylish
A Biedermeier Wardrobe – available now on Styylish

Our catalog features a wide variety of Biedermeier pieces, from chairs to cabinets. But today’s focus is the desk, in all its functional glory. Before we introduce you to some Biedermeier desks from our collection, let us recap the basics of the style and period, so you can be as confident identifying Biedermeier as we are!

Re-Introducing Biedermeier

Biedermeier refers to a style of furniture that arose in the early 19th century. The word “Biedermeier” actually derives from a fictional character.

The schoolmaster Gottlieb Biedermeier, a creation of the poet Ludwig Eichrodt, was a satirical caricature of bourgeois tastes. Like the furniture he came to describe, the character of Biedermeier was marked by a love for restraint and utilitarianism.

The word Biedermeier didn’t come to denote the furniture style until the second half of the 19th century, making it a retroactive descriptor.

Four Biedermeier Walnut chairs- styylish
Four gorgeous Biedermeier chairs – available now on Styylish

In part the product of a burgeoning middle class in the Industrial Revolution, Biedermeier represented a radical shift in design from the 18th-century approach to furniture-making. Where the baroque and later neoclassical styles were characterized by pomp and wealth, Biedermeier was distinctly not

When identifying a Biedermeier piece, expect to find few materials besides wood in its construction. No gold décor of the kind popular in the Baroque period is likely to grace a Biedermeier piece (beyond a functional gilded lock, for example). Instead, the wood is front and center.

Why a Biedermeier Desk?

Desks are some of the most important artifacts of the Biedermeier period – they are implicitly related to the kind of work that a member of the new industrial middle-class might have pursued. As a site of intellectual innovation, Biedermeier desks stand as proof that a better life, a life of thought and self-improvement, was possible for non-aristocratic members of society.

As such, they are amongst the most interesting and worthwhile antiques to bring into your home. Because we, at Styylish, believe fundamentally in giving antique objects function and purpose, we are naturally drawn to Biedermeier desks – they are not only practical additions to your home, but they are stylistically easy to incorporate into almost any interior.

Using some of the objects in our collection, we want to introduce you to the qualities and characteristics of Biedermeier desks. Ranging widely in scale and original function, all of these examples would make show-stopping additions to a modern home.

Selections from the Styylish Catalogue

An Unusual Beauty

A recent addition to our collection, this Antique Table Desk in the Biedermeier Style is an unusual place to begin describing the Biedermeier style. It’s an absolutely stunning piece, from the veneer on the writing surface to the delicately interwoven feet.

Antique Biedermeier Desk, now available on Styylish

Those very feet and their organic, almost plant-like shape are unusually decorative for the Biedermeier style. True to style, the wood speaks for itself. No gold, silver, or other lavish materials adorn this desk. And yet, the wood is so intricate, that it might shock connoisseurs of Art Nouveau that this piece predates that style period by almost one hundred years.

Art Nouveau, the precursor to the more widely famous Art Deco style, is a period of the early 20th century that features organic, whimsically plant-inspired furniture. Indeed, whimsy feels intrinsic to this Biedermeier desk, too. That makes it a stand-out, and one of the most unique pieces in our collection.

For similarly decorative Austrian Biedermeier, check out our blog post on Josef Ulrich Danhauser, a visionary designer of the period.

A Gorgeous Exemplar

Biedermeier Walnut Desk- 19th century- styylish
A classic Biedermeier desk of dark natural walnut wood – available now on Styylish

This Biedermeier Walnut Desk is also much more than a simple functional table. With distinct stylistic inspirations drawn from the work of Danhauser, this Biedermeier desk has small but significant swirling features in the crossbeam.

The top of the table, however, showcases what the Biedermeier period is truly about. A solid wood surface, with plenty of functional writing space. A veneer that lets the wood grain speak for itself. And right angles without excessive flourish. This desk will become your favorite writing table in no time.

Bureau Plat Desk- styylish
A Baroque Bureau Plat – distinctly not a Biedermeier desk – available now on Styylish

To help us define the aforementioned characteristics further, let’s compare this desk to an early piece from our collection. This late-18th century French Bureau Plat is a classic late Baroque piece, and distinctly not Biedermeier.

What makes it Baroque? The cabriole legs with gold embellishment are a dead giveaway. No Biedermeier piece would feature such openly opulent characteristics in such a functional place.

There is also a dramatic theatricality to the way the light, bright wood veneer of different features interacts. Note how the drawers in the front are purposefully set against the grain of the body.

That example alone may make it easier to identify Biedermeier and its role. Whereas baroque furniture was a distinctly upper-class, or even royal, style, Biedermeier brought decorative functionality to less opulent people. That makes it a historically unique period in antique furniture-making.

True to Form

Biedermeier Drop front secretary desk- view of the secretary with open writing flap- styylish
A Biedermeier Drop-Front Cabinet Desk – available now on Styylish

As a final example from our catalog, consider this Biedermeier Drop-Front Cabinet Desk. Though decorated with ebonized wood columns, its craftsmanship and angularity make it a distinct Biedermeier piece. Note the simplicity in the wood doors, especially.

Simple doesn’t mean poor. The secretary desk, a popular Biedermeier design, features an intricate, delicate wood design, and yet it doesn’t hit you over the head. That’s the restraint and formal exactitude mocked in the character of Gottfried Biedermeier.

A desk of such historical restraint is certainly a scene-stealer in a modern home. Feature it in your living room or office, dedicating it to storage and work, simultaneously! The opportunities are endless!

The Biedermeier Desk – A Modern Designers Best Friend

No antique desk is easier to incorporate into a modern design concept than Biedermeier. These pieces call out through history with a simple request: take us at face value, use us as inspiration, and match our gorgeous woodwork with a fitting home.

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