German furniture 100 years or older qualifies as antique, and if and when you find such a piece, expect to pay a premium price for its fine craftsmanship. Most all German furniture comes from the sturdy hardwoods found in its many forests, but the styles of furniture vary by region and the era in which they were produced. For a distinctively German piece of furniture, look to the schrank -- translated to mean cupboard, armoire or locker -- which provided duty as a wardrobe, a cupboard or even a pantry in many German homes, with plenty of drawers and storage hidden behind often-locked doors.
Because Germany was isolated from other areas of the Europe by the Alps, early cabinetmakers weren't as influenced by the styles and designs coming out of Europe as they were by the artisans around them. Though some of the elements of the different design periods -- Baroque, Renaissance, Empire, Rococo and more -- made their way into German-made furniture, regional influences often played a bigger part in how the furniture was made and the way it looked.
Much of the older German furniture included hand-painted designs in addition to detailed metal scrollwork hardware. German-made armoires often included locks to make them safe for hiding away valuables. Many of these pieces also contained blacksmith-worked black-iron hinges and other hardware. The fine hand details of the paintings often matched the iron scrollwork on the piece.
Artistic Hand-Carved Embellishments
To get an idea of the hand-carvings that often embellished German-made antique furniture, just take a look at one or more of the German-made cuckoo clocks. Their gingerbread scrollwork was typically hand carved. Depending on when the piece was made, it might include hand-carved acanthus leaves, medallions and even gargoyle-type faces.
World's Favorite Chair
The world's favorite chair -- the bistro chair -- originally called Thonet No. 14 by its inventor and maker, German cabinetmaker William Thonet, basically consists of six pieces of wood. Thonet first made this chair in 1859 by bending wood in a new and revolutionary way. He saturated the beech wood with steam for five hours to make it soft, and then he bent it into the curves while it was still wet, resulting in the world's most famous chair. What made the chair so famous was that it was easy to ship because it was unassembled. Famous people said to have their bums graced by the chair include Picasso, Einstein and Lenin.
True Biedermeier furniture was created, starting in about 1815 and lasting until about 1835 -- give or take a few years -- by middle-class German cabinetmakers for the middle class. Craftsmen took great pains to match the wood veneer in such a way as to make it appear as part of the decoration of the wood itself. This included artistic patterns on the face of drawer fronts in chests, cabinet doors on armoires and on tabletops. This type of furniture usually was simple in overall design, as the wood itself became the decor.
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