The Hapsburgs Museum of Furniture (Hofmobiliendepot) introduces you to historic lifestyle through applied arts: The Imperial depot revives 300 years of upper and middle class interiors, marked by the Hapsburg (or Habsburg) family. Find out between pompous footstools, silk upholstered chairs, showcase salons and bedrooms, travel thrones and throne-like sanitary chairs what living felt like for the Emperors, their family and bourgeois Vienna.
Imperial Vienna On The Move
The Hapsburgs were frequent travellers. Whenever they moved between their many palaces, country houses and hunting lodges, or attended formal ceremonies, they took furniture with them. During the year, they stored it in what is the Depot for Movable Property today. The museum itself mixes collections of single objects such as chairs, pokers, mirrors and spittoons with fully furnished showcase rooms. The Imperial life style eventually rubbed off on the middle class. Its ‘high street versions’ soon defined bourgeois interiors across the Hapsburg capital Vienna and beyond. Watch their finest examples at the museum.
Among the first things you see when you enter the exhibition rooms are foldable travelling thrones, footstools, prayer stools, pokers, and candelabras. It is a stunning collection of things that were once must-haves.
The most interesting pieces are the more personal types of furniture, guarded by a large portrait of Empress Elisabeth (Sissi). My favourites are the 1860s’ cot bed of Sissi’s and Francis Joseph’s children (see photo), and Crown Prince Rudolph’s preciously carved and upholstered cradle. Another real highlight is the collection of Imperial toilets and sanitaryware.
The showrooms are a playground for character studies about Hapsburg members – Francis Joseph, for example, was frugal and pragmatic. Maria Ludovica’s (wife of Francis I) interieurs, in contrast, were buoyantly feminine. Empress Maria Theresia certainly loved the big extras of Imperial life – just watch the interiors she chose for Hetzendorf castle…
What all these objects of the Hapsburgs Museum have in common is excellent craftsmanship: dark wood cupboards with shiny inlaid mother of pearl, soft polished nutwood beds decorated with gold ornaments, a seating arrangement with opulent gold plated carvings… Should you ever design your own Imperial realm the little workshop room is THE place to find out more about the techniques used in historic furniture making.
Hapsburgs Museum of Furniture’s Walk-In Depot
You don’t need to be an Austrian minister, museum curator or film director to access the Austrian Republic’s furniture depot. On a few square metres, hundreds of historic objects neatly pile up on two levels. They are being regularly used for different occasions. Because of its practical nature the depot is strictly non-exhibitionist. It has just been opened to the general public for further insight. I think that sneak-peek feeling of discovering objects off the presentation line makes the depot so special for visitors.
Biedermeier And Sissi Movies
If you have never heard of Wiener Biedermeier think of Great Britain’s Victorian style: very bourgeois, romantic, cosy, and aspiring to emulate the monarch’s lifestyle, although at a more modest scale. On the second floor of the Hapsburgs Museum of Furniture you can roam past a series of Biedermeier sceneries. (That type of furniture still remains in demand in many inner city antiques shops.)
Biedermeier famously represents the style of the Empress Sissi movies with Romy Schneider. They had been equipped with Biedermeier furniture from Hofmobiliendepot. The museum has installed a separate exhibition for Sissi movie fans. At the walk-in depot, you will find a few screens with scenes from the movies, just in front of heaps of stored away historic objects from the film and the Imperial palace.
As plush seats change for black bentwood chairs you will have left the Imperial side of the Hapsburgs Museum collection. You have reached the last exciting stage of Viennese furniture design. In fact, the jump from Imperial style, then Biedermeier (and later Historicism) to Modernism is visible and dramatic. You can smell the revolution.
Thonet’s seating furniture has triumphed in Vienna coffeehouses, inns, some wineries and middle class households since the mid 19th century. It’s simple yet comfortable and beautifully designed. And it’s one of the first attempts in Central Europe to mass produce furniture at reasonable prices.
The interiors of modernist Viennese architects and artists Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann (co-founder of Wiener Werkstätte) and Otto Wagner take simplicity and practicality to the next design level. Hoffmann’s famous rocking chair was called ‘Sitzmaschine’ (seating machine) and is a lot more comfortable than it suggests. Wagner’s slick range of furniture for the Austrian Postal Savings Bank was equally ground breaking. For more insight, visit the Vienna Secession, and the Museum for Applied Arts and Contemporary Art (MAK). As for the post war furniture design, watch out for Hermann Czech, Josef Hoffmann and Neue Wiener Werkstätte.