What is Biedermeier Furniture & Why is Biedermeier Style Trending in Interior Design Again?
Tracing Biedermeier Furniture from the 1800s to the 1970s to Today
Most homeowners are familiar with contemporary, cottage, and even Scandanavian pieces when it comes to interior design and furniture styles. Biedermeier, however, is not as commonly known or referenced despite its popularity over two centuries of interior design! Originating in Germany after the Napoleonic Wars, the Biedermeier style rejected the opulence of the French Empire style and embraced casual, modern living fit for a newly expanding middle class. The clean lines of Biedermeier furniture pieces remain relevant and stylish today. Our San Antonio interior designers and architects explain the Biedermeier movement, how to identify Biedermeier furniture, and why Biedermeier design has remained popular through centuries worth of interiors.
Angus Wilkie, Amity Worrel’s Cousin, Wrote the Book on Biedermeier—Literally!
Our interest in Biedermeier furniture at the Amity Kett interior design and architecture studio in San Antonio began with Angus Wilkie. Wilkie is a famed New York City antique dealer, collector, and decorative arts specialist who has partnered with designers like Len Morgan on dramatic renovations from Manhattan penthouses to Connecticut cottages. Their spaces are furnished with artfully paired antiques from the 1800s, 1970s, and every decade in between, including Biedermeier pieces. Wilkie’s fascination with the Biedermeier period began when he was younger and found himself living in a house full of Biedermeier furniture he collected. With such an appreciation for the period, he decided to write the book on the subject—literally!
In Biedermeier, Wilkie examines the bourgeoisie of central Europe in the nineteenth century who developed the style and why Biedermeier was experiencing an unprecedented revival at the time of original publication during the 70s and 80s. His work is still relevant, as these pieces are still making appearances in interiors today. Biedermeier is the unrivaled sourcebook for those interested in the furniture and decor of an era with uncanny parallels to our own. Wilkie’s influence has our San Antonio interior designers hooked on the timeless appeal of Biedermeier.
Our designers will be giving a general overview of the Biedermeier movement and furniture features, and we recommend reading Biedermeier to anyone looking to learn even more.
What is Biedermeier Furniture? A Brief History of the Biedermeier Design Movement
The Biedermeier era began in Germany in 1815 and continued through 1848 during a period of middle-class mobility following the Napoleonic Wars. During this time, middle-class households began executing spending power and investing in home comforts. While production of home furnishings and accessories increased, budget consciousness remained at the forefront of design, resulting in a rejection of opulent materials and details associated with the French Empire style popular decades prior. Simple pursuits and hobbies, like letter writing, reading, and small home gatherings, were in vogue. The Biedermeier furniture style reflected these interests with simple lines and a relaxed, informal feel.
The Biedermeier style actually got its name from a popular satire column in the local German newspapers. In German, Bieder means simple, and Meier is a common last name. The Biedermeier character represented the unadorned and straightforward mentality popular with the new middle class, who were moving upward in society while still maintaining a healthy home budget. Becoming a symbol of the time, the name stuck with the aesthetics of the decade.
How to Identify Biedermeier Furniture
The Biedermeier style and furnishings are characterized by architectural simplicity, light-colored woods, and contrasting inlays. Casual comfort with an air of relaxed sophistication is central to Biedermeier furniture pieces. Most of the furniture of the period was produced by cabinet makers in Germany and Scandinavia, as local craftsmanship and materials allowed for a lower price point than expensive imports. Biedermeier chairs, secretary desks, and chests featuring light fruitwoods and dark sunburst veneers are synonymous with the period. Biedermeier experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 70s and still captures the attention of collectors and designers today.
Made for the Middle Class
Unlike other previous design movements, like Empire and Rococo, Biedermeier is notable for being the first home decor style created by and for the middle class. Home furnishings were made locally with simpler lines and materials to reduce the price and allow for a larger appeal.
Biedermeier furnishings, especially Biedermeier chairs, feature simple lines, visual lightness, elegant curves, and a focus on geometric shapes and wood grain rather than heavy ornamentation and intricate carvings.
Light Woods & Contrasting Veneers
Biedermeier furniture rejected expensive and dark woods like mahogany popular in the Empire movement. Instead, artisans opted for light woods like walnut, cherry, ash, oak, and maple. These light-colored fruitwoods grew in Germany, eliminating the need for imports and cutting down consumer costs. Exposed wood grain with contrasting dark veneers was a popular finish.
Despite original Biedermeier pieces being over 200 years old, the furniture of the movement feels fresh and modern. Designed for a relaxed lifestyle at home, the simple lines of Biedermeier pieces still resonate with current homeowners.
Biedermeier Furniture Gains Popularity Again in the 70s
As Angus Wilkie explains in his book, Biedermeier furniture experienced a resurgence of popularity again in the 70s. At the end of the Mid-century modern period, homeowners had fully embraced clean lines, an emphasis on geometry, and an airy feel. Biedermeier embraces many of these elements with a more elegant and traditional approach. Biedermeier furnishings’ simplicity of line and emphasis on geometric form anticipated the design principles of the early twentieth century, allowing for a new embrace of a centuries-old design movement.
Is Biedermeier Furniture Trending in Interior Design Today?
The Biedermeier design movement was the precursor to modern design and living as we know it today. The sleek curves feel right at home in contemporary interiors, and scaled-down structures make for easy and comfortable living in the house. In many ways, the mentality of the Biedermeier era still lives on today. Many middle-class homeowners aim to create a comfortable interior on a budget without the stuffy fuss that inhibits cozy living. Simply put, Biedermeier furnishings focus on practicality, comfort, and sleek style rather than opulent and uncomfortable spaces designed to make a good first impression a few times per year. The light wood tones, simple lines, and warm feel of Biedermeier furniture can be incorporated into almost any design scheme using antiques or newly inspired pieces. If a piece has a stylish veneer or simple curve, it’s probably rooted in Biedermeier.