- Mika Vepsalainen
Möbelmuseum Wien - the Lumber Room of the Habsburgs
Updated: Apr 19
Join us for a visit to the original furniture depot of the Habsburg dynasty that has become a storeroom, workshop, administrative body and a museum sporting the largest Biedermeier collection in the world in the 7th Bezirk in Vienna.
Originally, the Vienna Furniture Museum was where the Habsburgs stored their furniture. Today with its 165,000 exhibits it is one of the world's largest furniture collections, presenting the culture of furniture from over three centuries.
The Imperial Furniture Collection is located in an inner courtyard just off Mariahilferstraße with its stores, restaurants and bars. The museum exhibits original furniture owned by the Habsburgs and you will see that the Imperial Furniture Collection has exactly the right furniture piece to suit every taste, need and use. Today, the former lumber-room of the monarchy is one of the most important collections of furniture in the world.
The imperial court furniture depository goes back to 1747 when Maria Theresa appointed the first Court Furnishing Inspector, who was responsible for the care, inventarisation and transport of furniture. The most important task was organising the transport of furniture as the court moved its residence several times a year. The residences were not permanently furnished until the early 19th century and the furnishings had to move with the court between the winter residence at the Hofburg (see our review of Sisi’s apartment!) alternating with the Sejour at Schönbrunn (see our review!) and Laxenburg, with interludes for hunting, for example at Schloss Hof. On special occasions such as the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor at Frankfurt or the coronation of the Bohemian and Hungarian king at Prague and Budapest, the required ceremonial trappings and the drapery of the throne formed part of the monarch´s baggage train.
In 1901 Emperor Franz Joseph commissionend a central storage facility at Mariahilfer Strasse 88 for the state holdings of furniture. A number of display rooms were furnished and opened to the public in 1924 and in 1998, after refurbishment, the Imperial Furniture Collection opened its doors as a modern museum.
Among the thousands of exhibits amassed over five centuries, there is a special emphasis on Biedermeier and Historicism, but one also finds a Baroque easy-chair on wheels, an imperial travel throne and praying-stools with velvet pillow-covers. Ensembles such as the fittings and fixtures of Empress Elisabeth's farmers' parlor in the Schönbrunn dairy and a young girl's room in the Biedermeier style, spittoons, commodes elegantly disguised as seating, and other curiosities are there for us to admire including bentwood furniture of the cabinet-maker Thonet brothers who developed their famous bentwood furniture – ultra-modern products that were so far in advance of their times that his steam-bending techniques were later revived by the leading designers of the Viennese Modern movement.
The first floor at the entrance is where most of the upholstered action is, beginning with an introduction to imperial furniture management. You know how moving house can be rather stressful? Now imagine that when your house has over 1400 rooms. The exhibition then introduces you to the depth of the museum’s imperial collection through a cornucopia of items that extends from an Egyptian-themed mini glasshouse for cacti to coat stands and candelabras.
The rest of the rooms highlight the personal quarters of some of the Habsburgs. Each time a new member moved into one of the many royal palaces, they'd bring with them their own furniture, putting the previous pieces into storage. As such, the collection includes over 160,000 pieces spanning more than five centuries. Today, around 6000 objects are on display.
The 19th century Biedermeier style is particularly fascinating. For many years it was regarded as a middle-class style of living and furnishing, born out of the desire of many people to retreat from the uncertainty of the times into a domestic idyll. However, actually, it would seem that it originated among royalty and nobility, as a style conceived for the less formal private apartments in their stately residences.
During the Historicist era, when the Ringstrasse was constructed, Vienna witnessed a new flourishing of the arts, comparable to that of the Baroque age. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the magnificent new boulevard became a place where a whole epoch paraded itself in all its glory. The stylistic eras of the past were referenced not only in the grand public buildings and palaces but also their furnishings.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, interiors drew on earlier styles in an arbitrary ‘pick-and-mix’ of combinations. The Viennese court favoured the Rococo from the age of Maria Theresa, while the fashion among the city’s rising middle classes was for large, heavy neo-Renaissance or neo-Baroque furniture. The Imperial Furniture Collection has a particularly impressive example of a late-Historicist interior in the Armorial Hall, a library conceived in homage to Emperor Franz Joseph.
Otto Wagner, Joseph Hoffmann and Adolf Loos are the best-known representatives of the Viennese modern movement; the collection of Viennese Modernism in the Vienna Furniture Museum boasts some of their most outstanding works. The ‘Sitz-Maschine’ (‘machine for sitting’) by Josef Hoffmann, the furniture from Otto Wagner’s Post Office Savings Banks and the ‘Knieschwimmer’ easy chair by Adolf Loos – all these iconic items of furniture herald the dawning of a new era.
In 1897 a group of progressive artists and architects associated with Gustav Klimt founded the Secession (see our separate review!), effectively giving birth to the Viennese Modern movement.
After the end of the Monarchy, Vienna went its own way in furniture design. Comfort had primacy over formality or ostentatious display of wealth. On display at the Imperial Furniture Collection is a key work from this time, the Vienna apartment designed by Ernst Plischke for the ceramic artist Lucie Rie, a modern, open-plan space with ingenious built-in storage fittings. In the post-Second World War era the focus was above all on reconstruction. There was a demand for economically priced furniture that almost everybody could afford.
As a curiosity, there is also the permanent exhibition “Sissi in the Movies” which takes you behind the scenes of the world-famous 1950s trilogy with Romy Schneider. If your are a true enthusiast, you might wish to participate in a special once-a-month guided tour entitled "The Emperor's Couch" that gives a glimpse into the so-called Federal Property Administration right next door to the Vienna Furniture Museum. The furniture of the former imperial house of Habsburg-Lothringen is still used at official receptions of the Republic of Austria, is kept there and you can see the red carpets that are rolled out for different occasions and what the Emperor's Couch is still used for today.
The museum is nicely accessible with no steps at the main entrance and the restaurant with a good lift to access the upper floors. All exhibition areas are accessible either via ramps or a lift. There is an accessible restroom at the ticket desk and on the first floor. Unfortunately, there are no parking spaces for persons with special needs nearby.
There is a small shop at the ticket dest with books and items for sale.
You can access the Depot Café and Restaurant from the museum's entry hall. It was closed during our visit. Given the location, there are also a myriad of bars, restaurants and coffee houses in the vicinity to choose from.
Andreasgasse 7, 1070 Vienna