What do “The Third Man” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” have in common? Both films were provided with many of their props by Vienna based theatrical props firm, Schmiedl Innenausstattung. Schmiedl’s props are often originally acquired at Dorotheum before eventually finding their way into big Hollywood films. An 100th anniversary portrait of a company.
Who would have thought that the production crews of prominent television, theatre and cinema companies from all over the world, would make their way to a sleepy neighbourhood in a southern suburb of Vienna in search of authentic props and furniture to perfect their illusions? Their destination? A modern red brick warehouse containing a vast stock of over 10,000 exclusive historical items. The location has changed several times over the years, but the owners, the Schmiedl family, have remained the same. After 100 years in the business, Schmiedl Innenausstattung has grown to become one of Europe’s largest prop hire companies, offering a fund of objects spanning from the baroque period to the historicism of the nineteenth century.
Famous Hollywood film maker Bernhard Henrich, a regular customer, “especially values the high quality of the furniture”, say Romana and Max Schmiedl, the 4th generation owners of this venerable family firm. It was at Schmiedls that Henrich found the missing pieces he needed for his film “Valkyrie”, the blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, telling the story of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in 1944.
Schmiedl’s collection of historical furniture consists almost entirely of original pieces – some of which were sourced at Dorotheum. Erich Traber, conservator and an employee of
many years, works tirelessly to keep them in mint condition. “We pay great attention to the fabric and the condition of the pieces when we shop for new items” the couple explains.
A stroll through the offices of Schmiedl’s premises is to take a journey through film history. The walls are decorated with personal dedications to the owners by actors as diverse as Bill Murray and Hans Moser, who the owners met at the shooting of Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), and “Hallo, Dienstmann” (1952), respectively. The firm was also involved in the making of Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” and “The Sound of Music” – both world-famous movies
set in Austria.
1919 – The Beginning
It all came about by chance, Max Schmiedl explains. His great-grandfather was employed as a stage decorator by the Raimund Theatre in Vienna. One day he was asked to help acquire a set of period silverware for a film production company. When the filming ended, he kept the silverware. The experience had planted an idea in his mind for a props-hire business, and the silverware became the company’s very first prop. Schmiedl Innenausstattung was founded in 1919 in Windmühlgasse in Vienna’s 6th district.
Max Schmiedl’s grandfather began cataloguing all the objects in the 1960s, an innovative move at the time. Nowadays, everything is meticulously listed and can be easily browsed online.
“Our emphasis is on buying entire ensembles,” says Romana Schmiedl, who is always on the lookout for new additions at auctions such as Dorotheum’s “Selected by Hohenlohe”. “Alternatively, we put the ensembles together ourselves,” she says. Complete room furnishings are in much higher demand than single pieces. A good example of this is the recent commission to supply furnishings for “Das Sacher”, a two-part TV-documentary about the historic Viennese hotel. The most sought-after items are pictures and lighting. Two giant porcelain table lamps, acquired at Dorotheum, serve as eye-catchers in the Schmiedl showrooms. A trick of the trade was passed on to Max Schmiedl by his father and grandfather “You always need to show off with a highlight or two!”
Over the past 100 years, each generation has added furniture and decor to the collection to match its own particular taste, with items ranging from a Roman scissor chair to a 1950s kidney-shaped table, always adhering though, to the strong tradition of the historical collection. The warehouse is jam-packed with rows of chairs and sofas, with stoves and fireplaces, mirrors and pictures, garden furniture and school benches, oriental artefacts, writing sets and telephones. A red throne that featured in the long-running and much acclaimed Austrian TV-comedy series “Wir sind Kaiser” (“We are the Emperor”) has also found a prominent position in the collection.
Regardless of all efforts to modernise and the new business initiatives that have been implemented over the years, the Schmiedl empire remains to this day, above all else – as a newspaper article from the 1960s coined it – “a magical den packed with family tradition”.