The Kraus and Vogl Apartments in Pilsen Diary

 

PilsenLoosBendovaint1I traveled by bus with Regiojet to Pilsen to see two flats designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos during the first third of the 20th century. I was already familiar with his architecture. Loos had made the Müller Villa in Prague into an architectural gem. When I visited the Müller Villa, I had been fascinated by the contrast of the spartan exterior and luxurious interior. Loos’ use of rare woods also greatly impressed me. I liked the symmetry and the harmony of the spaces in the Müller Villa. The Japanese theme in the Winter Dining Room entranced me, too.

This tour included two flats – the one that Loos designed for the Kraus family at 10 Bendova Street and the apartment in which the Vogl family had resided at 12 Klatovská Street. Luckily, Bendova Street is within walking distance of the town center. You can almost see the Great Synagogue from there. I stood in front of the building on Bendova Street. It looked like a typical apartment building in the city, but, of course, Loos did not design the exterior – only one flat inside.

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Soon it was time for the tour to begin. Facing me was a huge black-and-white photo of Loos. He was holding headphones because he was hard of hearing. He wore a pearl in his necktie. I was familiar with Loos’ background. Born in Brno, he received Czech citizenship thanks to Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk. Loos had lived in Vienna, the USA, Paris and Dresden, among other places. He had finished his studies in the Czech lands. Loos admired classicist modern architecture, which stressed simplicity and symmetry. His style was influenced by the architecture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Trademarks of Loos’ creations included a lack of decoration on exteriors, a penchant for symmetry and the use of expensive materials such as stone, marble and various types of wood. The Viennese architect had had a close relationship with the city of Pilsen. He designed no less than 13 interiors there, though only eight have been preserved. Four of them are open to the public.

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The flat at Bendova 10 was commissioned by chemist Vilém Kraus, who lived there with his wife and two children. Loos worked on the project in 1930 and 1931. The family would not live at this address for long because they were of Jewish origin, and the Nazis took over in 1939. Gertrude and the children were sent to a concentration camp, where they perished. Vilém, however, survived World War II. After the war, the Communists confiscated the flat, so he moved to Britain. During totalitarian times, the flat was divided into three sections for three families, and part of Loos’ design was destroyed.

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The guide led us into a space divided into the dining room and the living room. There were two mirrors opposite each other in the long space. They created a multiplying effect. I felt as if I was in the room full of mirrors at Lindenhof Palace in Bavaria. I had a feeling of being watched and of spying on others at the same time as I saw reflections of myself and the other participants of the tour. It made me self-conscious and paranoid. I found the mirrors to be jarring. Two pilasters made of rare marble flanked the mirror in the dining room. This feature reminded me of the living room in the Müller Villa, where Loos utilized two marble pilasters. The living room of the Müller Villa also had been divided into parts.

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On the other side of the room, a fireplace played a central role. In the living room of the Müller Villa, there had been a fireplace as well. There was a mirror above the fireplace, and I noticed the white and green marble decoration. Typical for Loos, there was no ornamentation. His design emphasized the beauty of the materials, in this case, the marble used in the room. The ceiling also appealed to me. It was made of dark mahogany.

In the hallway a closet opened to reveal three sections where dirty laundry could be placed. I thought that the device was efficient and rational. We went into another room dominated by light blue wallpaper on one wall. It added a vibrancy to the small space where pictures of Loos and the apartment were on display. The wallpaper was not original, though. I noticed the bright red radiator. In the Müller Villa Loos had also had the radiators painted red. He wanted them to be visible instead of hidden.

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In the bedroom the desk and closet were made of Finnish birch wood. The closets had drawers and hooks for hats. I remembered the moveable drawers and hooks in the closets of the men’s and women’s bedrooms in the Müller Villa. These were details that Loos often employed. In a side panel below a window, there was a safe. The bed was blue, and I wondered if it had been this color when the Krauses lived here.

Soon the tour ended. I was surprised that the flat was so small. I had been expecting something on a grander scale. Still, I was intrigued by Loos’ design, especially by the use of rare materials and mirrors.

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Our group then walked about five minutes to 12 Klatovská Street. Again, the exterior of the building was nothing special. The two preserved rooms in this flat turned out to be located amidst a labyrinth of offices. Originally, the interior had been furnished for businessman Otto Beck, but when he moved out, the new tenant, Josef Vogl, wanted Loos to make adjustments because the dentist needed a section of the flat for his practice and another part for his family. It was Loos’ job to harmonize the two sections. In 1928 and 1929, Loos designed a waiting room and an X-ray room in addition to the doctor’s office. During the Second World War, the apartment was turned into offices. Unfortunately, the part of the flat used for Vogl’s practice was destroyed. The bedroom and children’s room are no longer visible, either. The family did not return after the war, and then the spaces had been used for administrative purposes.

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We did, however, have the opportunity to see the living room and dining room, both of which greatly intrigued me. One room was divided into a study with a desk and chair and a living room area with a floral-patterned couch and various chairs, each one unique. I recalled the chairs in the living room of the Müller Villa. There, too, all the chairs had been different, and each one had been extraordinary in some respect. I especially liked the low armchair, and I recalled the low armchairs in the Müller Villa. Another chair that fascinated me was the tiny one on which only a small child could sit. It was a copy of an Egyptian chair from a museum in London.

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Marble pilasters flanked a fireplace made of red brick. Again, I noticed that the fireplace played an important role in Loos’ design. The walls were decorated with Japanese woodcuts. After Loos had visited the Chicago World’s Fair, he had become intrigued by Asian art. I recalled the Japanese lantern light and other Asian elements in the Winter Dining Room of the Müller Villa. There were even a few Japanese lantern lamps here, too. The room boasted symmetry, one of the features of Loos’ creations that appealed to me the most.

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The dining room was a different, though no less intriguing, story. The yellow travertine walls gave it a warm orange color that I liked. I recalled that travertine had been one material used in the Müller Villa, too. Mirrors dominated the space, set above a long counter on the back wall. A big conference table took up most of the space. The dining room in the Müller Villa had been dark; this room was light and airy. The mirrors blended in with the rest of the design in this space. I did not feel awkward.

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I liked the design of these two rooms more than I had liked the Kraus’ apartment, although I appreciated the unique and daring features in both flats. In the Vogl family apartment, I felt as if I could sit at the desk in the study and write or lie down on the couch and read. The space was comfortable and appealing. Even though the Vogl family apartment was now only comprised of two rooms, those spaces had a lot to say.

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I left Pilsen, vowing to return to see the two other flats that Loos had designed in this city. I would recommend this tour to anyone interested in architecture and to anyone who had enjoyed visiting the Müller Villa.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Stiassni Villa Diary

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I had heard that the Stiassni Villa in Brno had been open to the public since the end of 2014, but I did not have time to go there in 2015. When the Czech UNISMA travel agency offered a tour of the Stiassni and Löw-Beer villas in the Moravian capital, I immediately signed up. A prime example of modern functionalist architecture in the Czech lands, the Stiassni Villa had been under reconstruction from 2012 to 2014. During Communism renovations had taken place as well –during that time period furniture from various chateaus had been added to the interior. Still, the villa had original furniture, too.

I was entranced with the section of Brno where the architectural gem was located – in the villa-sprinkled Masaryk Quarter, a section that looked tranquil, so different from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It reminded me of the Hanspaulka section of Prague, where I enjoyed taking long walks along villa-flanked streets.

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I am not a big fan of the functionalist style, but the exterior was intriguing. Its spartan appearance reminded me a bit of the exteriors of Prague’s Müller Villa and Rothmayer Villa. Shaped like the letter L, the Stiassni Villa was designed by architect Ernst Wiesner, who made quite a name for himself in Brno during the interwar years. His work was influenced by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who designed the Müller Villa in Prague. Wiesner created the plans for other buildings in Brno as well, such as the Moravia Palace and crematorium. Wiesner fled to Great Britain in 1939, the year the Nazis took over. The villa was completed in 1929 for textile entrepreneur Alfred Stiassni and his family – his wife Hermine and his daughter Susanne. The structure features rectangular windows and a massive cassette cornice, for example.

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The Stiassni’s tenure at the villa only lasted nine years. Because they were Jewish, the family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938, when they traveled to London and then continued to Brazil. Alfred Stiassni’s mother decided not to leave her homeland due to her age. She died at the Terezín concentration camp in central Bohemia during 1942, when she was 87 years old. The villa was taken over by the Nazis during World War II. During 1945, the Stiassnis obtained US citizenship. That same year Russian soldiers liberating the city would destroy furnishings in the villa. It was in good shape again when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš stayed there later that year, on his first visit to Brno after the war. He and his wife would reside in the villa again the following year during another trip to the Moravian capital.

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Paintings of the owners of the villa, Alfred and Hermine Stiassni. The paintings are not part of the original furnishings.

From 1952 the villa was the property of the Regional National Committee and was used as accommodation for VIP guests, such as Fidel Castro. In 1961 Alfred Stiassni died in Beverly Hills, California. His wife passed away the following year. In 1964 leading Soviet Union politician Nikita Khrushchev spent time at the villa. From 1990 to 2005, the place served as a four-star hotel. Famous guests included Rudy Giuliani and Bill Gates. In 2005 Susanne, who had married an American, died in Beverly Hills.

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Soon it was time for the tour to begin. In the Large Dining Room I admired the copy of a Baroque painting by 17th century Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens showing merry people drinking and laughing. I thought I could see the influences of Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder in the work. The onyx fireplace also caught my attention. My eyes were drawn to an elegant vase as well.

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Another room featured watercolor paintings by Hermine and original chairs with grey upholstery. The pewter chandelier was also intriguing. An exquisite table had been originally in Bítov Castle, one of the largest and oldest castles in Moravia, a sight I had toured twice. I also admired a Baroque commode. The stucco decoration on the walls and ceiling was stunning. Then we visited some small rooms, and I especially liked the Empire space with side tables and a bed in that style. The bathroom was made of green marble. It had obtained its appearance during reconstruction in the 1980s. It is not known what the bathroom really looked like during the Stiassni’s tenure there.

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The first floor was even more intriguing. Behind Alfred’s vast closet with moveable drawers was a space for more than 10 pairs of shoes. I recalled how the drawers in the dressing rooms of the Müller Villa were also moveable. In the bathroom the detail on the faucets was superb.

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From Hermine’s bedroom it was possible to see the sloping English garden with hills and other greenery in the background. Other villas could also be seen in scenery that would have made a remarkable landscape painting. Mirrors covered Hermine’s closet in her dressing room. Her bathroom was green marble because the architects had no idea what it had looked like originally.

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The daughter Susanne had the nicest rooms. Her playroom featured a dressing room, a bathroom and the terrace. I liked the yellow color of the rooms. It was my mother’s favorite color, and it brought back memories of my time spent with her in the yellow-painted kitchen of my parents’ house. So many discussions about so many topics, so many smiles, so many problems resolved. Susanne’s governess also had a small room.

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The Small Dining Room, where the Stiassnis usually ate, was very modest with a small table set for three. The garden was another highlight of the villa. It was established in 1927 and included many foreign woody species. I noted its symmetrical design. Each section had been assigned a different use.

The Stiassnis were athletes. They took up swimming, skiing and skating, for example. There had been a swimming pool above the villa, and there still were tennis courts on the property.

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I had enjoyed my tour of the villa, which contained some intriguing furnishings and was architecturally enthralling. I appreciated the functionalist design even though it was not my favorite style. I could imagine the villa in the early 1930s, when the family was settled there, not aware that their time in the villa would be cut short by the Nazis’ rise to power. From there we headed to the Löw-Beer Villa, which had a stunning Secession façade but only one piece of original furniture. Facing the famous Tugendhat Villa, the Löw-Beer Villa is now used as an exhibition space.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Müller Villa Diary

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The Müller Villa

NOTE: Visitors are only allowed to take pictures of the exterior of the villa from the street. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the interior.

I first visited the Müller Villa with my parents when it first opened in 2000. I remember being impressed by the lavish interior and innovative spatial design. I like the location, too. The Střešovice quarter of Prague’s sixth district is home to many attractive villas, several even on the same street as the Müller Villa.

I already knew some of the background information that the guide explained at the beginning of the tour. Viennese architect Adolf Loos and Czech architect Karel Lhotka built the villa for František Müller, who co-owned a construction company, as a family residence from 1928 to 1930. This was a time period when villas were cropping up in Prague and Brno. The Rothmayer Villa in Prague and the Tugendhat Villa in Brno were also erected during this era. Even though construction on the Müller Villa began in 1928, Loos was not able to obtain a building permit until 1929. Loos’ design caused quite a fuss because, thanks to its spartan cube-like façade, the villa stood out distinctly from the other homes in Střešovice.

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Tugendhat Villa in Brno

I was familiar with the name Adolf Loos, who was born in Brno and was awarded Czech citizenship by Czechoslovak President Tomáš G. Masaryk. His significant contributions to modern architecture include his conception of the Raumplan. This type of design emphasizes the cube form. Also, each room in the villa is on a separate floor, another trait of the Raumplan. Loos greatly admired classicist modern architecture, which emphasized simplicity and symmetry and was inspired by the designs of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. He is known for his lack of decoration on exteriors and for using expensive materials such as stone, marble and various types of rare wood.

I had yet to visit the Loos House in Vienna, but I certainly would make an effort to get there whenever I got a chance to return to Vienna. Besides living in Vienna, Loos spent time in the USA, Paris and Dresden, for instance. He completed his studies in the Czech lands and contributed designs to west Bohemia’s Pilsen, where he created structures during1907, 1908 and 1930. They had not been open to the public when I had visited Pilsen, and I think Loos’ works there are now only open several days a year.

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Looshaus in Vienna, 1909, from en.wikipedia.org

Soon it was time for the tour to begin. The professional and erudite guide explained that now the villa looks like it had in 1930, when it was constructed. She emphasized that Loos employed bizarre color schemes, a characteristic that I admired. In the hallway, I was drawn to the original emerald green tiles. I could see a difference between the original tiles and those made during reconstruction. It was not possible to replicate the exact hue of the originals. In the hall I liked the red color of the radiators, as they were exposed as elements in the design. I tried to imagine what the reception room had looked like in 1930, with yellow lacquered furniture and purple-painted walls. I would have loved to have seen those clashing colors. Unfortunately, the furniture had not survived the trials and tribulations of the last nine decades.

Next came the first floor. After going up a dark spiral staircase, we came to a large, light and airy space – the living room. It was divided into three parts. Mostly low furniture filled up the two sides. I especially liked the English velvet gray and salmon-colored low armchairs. The middle section was empty. It had once been used as a dance floor. I loved the clear division of the three parts. There was a sense of logic in the design. The order and efficiency appealed to me. One unique element employed by Loos involved having pillars on one side instead of a wall, making the space open. Two fish tanks made the room more dynamic. The fireplace with a Neo-Classical relief also added charm to the space. There were so many different features to this room. They did not fit together, yet that is exactly why they did fit together. Loos’ penchant for using rare woods was evident here as well. I also liked the 19th and 20th century landscapes on one wall. I am a big fan of landscapes. Loos had used rare Cippolino de Saillon marble on the walls and pillars, which gave them a majestic air.

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Adolf Loos from http://www.mak.at

The dining room was very different. It was dark and low, not even reaching three meters in height. The coffered ceiling was impressive. It was covered in mahogany wood. While the round table sat six people, it could be extended to make room for 18 guests. Of the 14 Chippendale chairs, only one was original. The others were copies made in Prague. I liked the paintings by Jan Preisler on one wall. I noticed that one exquisite painting showed a girl with horses. Numerous plants made the space feel lively, too.

I liked the Ladies’ Boudoir because it was divided into two distinct parts. On one side there was a bed where Mrs. Müller could take afternoon naps while the other section showed off a couch that was shaped like two-thirds of a circle and a round Oriental table as well as a window overlooking the living room. The window was intriguing; it slid up and down like a window on a train. The golden color of the lemonwood furniture and paneling grabbed my attention. It made the space feel cozy.

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Loos’ design for Husova 58 in Pilsen from http://www.adolfloosplzen.cz

The library was not only a place for keeping books but also a place to hold business meetings. Above a fireplace was a mirror that I could imagine covered in soot. I loved the blue-and-white Dutch tiled stove. The couch, covered in leather, looked very comfortable. I felt like curling up on it and reading a good book, perhaps a British mystery or a Czech novel. There was an innovative contraption in the desk – a slot where letters could be placed. The correspondence could then be retrieved from the desk by opening a small door on the other side.

 

I found the master bedroom fascinating because of the blue-on-cream French wallpaper that had the same pattern as did the curtains and bedspread. The design showed boats, ancient towers, people dragging boats into the water and people rowing. There was a fantastic view from the large window. I could see the city I called home with its stunning orange rooftops.

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Enchanting orange rooftops of Prague

The bedroom was flanked by the men’s dressing room and the women’s dressing room. The men’s dressing room was designed by Jan Vaněk, an architect based in Brno. I loved the moveable drawers that were very practical. The ladies’ dressing room was lighter than the men’s, featuring maple wood. There were moveable drawers in this space, too. I loved the closet for hats. The writing desk with a collapsible mirror was exquisite.

The children’s room had a bizarre color scheme of yellows, blues, greens and reds. The room was divided into a playroom and bedroom. There were three beds, one for the daughter Eva, another for the nanny and a third behind a curtain for Eva when she was sick. It must have been so claustrophobic spending all day and night in a bed behind a curtain. I would feel cut off from the rest of the world or trapped as if I were in a cage.

We also glimpsed the rooms Mrs. Müller was allotted from 1959 to the end of her life, in 1968. Her flat consisted of two small rooms and a bathroom. Her furniture and paintings had been stored in the bathroom and library. Some of the furnishings were sold to private collections. The State Pedagogical Publishers took over the rest of the villa at that time. (Interestingly, the Nazis had not confiscated the villa from the Mullers. The family was half-German.)

After the Velvet Revolution the villa was returned to Eva, who was then no longer living in Czechoslovakia. She sold it to the Municipal Office of the City of Prague, and the villa became the property of the City Museum of Prague in 1995. Loos’ masterpiece was declared a National Cultural Monument that same year.

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The Müller Villa

I liked the summer dining room even better than the living room. It was decorated in Japanese style with a Japanese lantern hanging over a table and Japanese-inspired upholstery on the chairs. The furniture was green and black while the wallpaper was silver, providing an interesting contrast. I loved the view of Prague from the window adjoining the terrace. I could have stared at the cityscape for hours.

The next space served as an exhibition room that focused the Müller family and the restoration work on the villa. There was information on Loos’ architectural style – for example, the exhibition stressed that his work featured cubes and coherent, continuous spaces; that each floor was a different height and that Loos emphasized the importance of economy and efficiency in his creations.

I was struck by the very high windows in the kitchen. Loos believed that women should not be allowed to look outside while they were cooking. He obviously never cooked, one female visitor remarked, drawing chuckles from the others. The boiler room was the place where Mr. Müller died when he accidentally inhaled carbon monoxide while stoking the boiler.

We also saw the laundry room, the drying room and the garage, where Mrs. Müller’s black Praga automobile was on display. It looked like a car from an old black-and-white film. The laundry room had once held an electric washing machine and spin dryer, very modern appliances at that time.

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Rothmayer Villa in Prague

Once again, I was very impressed with the Müller Villa. The contrast between the spartan exterior and the luxurious interior was fascinating. The summer dining room with its Japanese décor and green-and-white color combination was my favorite space. I wished it had been summer, so we could have gone out on the terrace. I liked this villa even more than I liked Brno’s Tugendhat Villa, an outstanding piece of architecture. I was especially drawn to the lavish furnishings, such as the low furniture in the living room. The paintings also caught my undivided attention – the landscapes and Jan Preisler’s works were dear to me. What perhaps intrigued me the most were the various rare woods used in the décor. The wallpaper in the master bedroom was remarkable, too.

I looked forward to touring other villas – the Rothmayer Villa in Prague and the Stiassi and Loew-Beer villas in Brno. I hoped I would manage a trip to Loos’ famous villa in Vienna and would have a chance to see the master architect’s designs in Pilsen. Even people who are only somewhat interested in architecture would enjoy touring this villa.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.