The first pictures, in which Hana Knížová introduced the Pigmentarium brand and even more so its soul to the world, were taken in the Winternitz Villa in Prague. For the second time, the story of the Murmur perfume campaign took place in the interiors of architect Adolf Loos. This time it was one of the apartments, which was built on the most modern principles a hundred years ago in Pilsen. Today we are going to Pilsen again. One of the first visits to the exceptionally valuable and inspiring historical interior, the Semler residence, which represents a revolution in the thinking and work of renowned architects of the twentieth century Adolf Loos and his pupil and collaborator, Heinrich Kulka.
by David Ševčík
Everyone sits comfortably in a different chair.
One of the lesser-known principles that architect Adolf Loos adhered to when furnishing interiors. That's why in the main living rooms of his apartments and houses you will often find very different seating furniture side by side, together forming a harmonious whole. Just as the company of different people complements each other perfectly. The differently shaped and upholstered chairs are also located in the main residential hall of residence Jana and Oskar Semler in Pilsen.
The word of residence is best described here by an object that was designed by Adolf Loos for the married couple of important Pilsen industriallists and their three sons at the beginning of the 1930s and its implementation was subsequently carried out by the architect Heinrich Kulka. The building from 1933-34 is a villa inside an apartment building. And at the same time Loos's last work.
The external appearance of the house was never of any importance to Adolf Loos. Its owners lived inside, and what passers-by think of the building is quite irrelevant to a modern-minded person. The facade thus simply served the architect to keep the rooms from spilling out into the street. The internal design and arrangement that surrounded the population and formed their world were essential. What is outward says nothing. What lies within is crucial. Therefore, in the case of loose, you will never see from the outside how the interior of the house looks. His work thus mirrors people's personalities more than is obvious at first sight. In the West Bohemian metropolis of Pilsen, this applies to all the apartments and houses that Adolf Loos created here in the first quarter of the twentieth century. And it is in Pilsen that the largest preserved number of exceptional interiors of this architect is located right after Vienna.
Semler's residence, the last and largest of them all, now welcomes us after an extremely precise (and expensive) ten-year renovation. Let us enter the house, which in itself, like Müller and Winternitz's villa, is the famous Raumplan.
A moment of surprise for the first time. And the second time.
The facade of the house on Klatovská Street indicates nothing. There is a separate three-story building on the corner plot with an original birchwood facade and rows of apartments behind green windows. It is, indeed, true for half the house. The second half hides a residence spread over six floors. Five of them occupy a representative part, consisting of Loos's favorite concept, the so-called Raumland. This is the interconnection of several floors of different levels into one residential unit. On the sixth, private, floor there are bedrooms. The Semler's apartment has two entrances. From the second floor of the common house staircase, the family entered directly into a private part with bedrooms. And yes, if you look at it through the Raumplan lens, it's the sixth floor. Don't try to figure it out unless the building plans are laid out in front of you. Guests entered through a representative entrance from the garden level. Like other Loos houses, it is low and unobtrusive. It is followed by an equally low and decent small hall. The guest is then impressed by the appearance of a large and completely unexpected main hall, which is accessed by a narrow, winding staircase from the hall. You will experience the same feeling of silent amazement over the idea and appearance in the Müller Villa. We find ourselves in the heart of Semler's residence. On almost fifty meters of sumptuous macassar flooring and also in the middle of Loos' ideas about housing. Different chairs will no longer surprise us, but the impression of absolute luxury might. So what about the sharp statements in his articles, such as Ornament and Crime? What did this pioneer of minimalism mean by saying that modern man does not spend an extra cent without purpose? Isn't a cube of macassar worth a million Czech crowns? Loos may be difficult to understand on paper. But once you stand in the middle of his work, everything becomes clear. You feel perfect. That despised purposelessness and the hated ornament was creation for creation's sake. Production of ornaments. Why a double staircase? Does it get you upstairs better? Does the balcony have to support the statues of swans to perform its function? There is nothing superfluous in Loos' interior. There is a clear purpose and a well-thought-out function behind everything. And yes, it's beautiful. Beauty has always been a matter of concern. However, in its basic form. What makes the interior so beautiful is the very perfection of the material used. Just discover it and use it. The walls of the residential hall are decorated with polished areas of Nordic birch. Gold leaf glitters between the red ceiling beams in the gallery. The giant windows, one of which is a miniature greenhouse, are penetrated by a lot of light. But you can't see out through them. Another favourite element of the architect, who saw nothing interesting or important in the view of the street. His efforts to draw attention to life and people inside are reflected in opaque glass or translucent silk curtains that imitate Japanese paravanes. Soft light and silence only enhance the final impression. The piano, American bar, separate corners with a backlit ONYX wall, and above all, there is a geometric crystal chandelier. A few steps covered with a soft moss-coloured carpet separate us from the magnificent octagonal mahogany-panelled dining room. The preservation of these records is a masterpiece of restorers. The dining room is adjacent to the winter garden and by the level of the gallery with libraries and separate corners for a dialog over coffee. The vertical side of these rooms is for that time the most modern and, of course, strictly functional technical areas. The spacious kitchen, which includes shelves for heating tea cups, technical rooms, and rooms for staff, combines blue metal staircases inspired by ocean-lined steamers and a service lift for food, which connects the whole house from the basement to the family floor.
A narrow gap in the gallery's polished wooden panelling leads from the living room to a small staircase and up to the private floor. Bright yellow walls surround the illuminated central corridor. The small dining area served surprisingly as a place after breakfast of the family without having to leave the private floor. The water tap above the sink next to the table brought what makes Pilsen, amazingly clean water from the artesian well of the local brewery. The two boys' rooms are as frugal as usual at that time. The parents' bedroom is decorated with wood panelling in several shades and hides doors to closets, hallways, and safes. Small beds, from which on the day the servants cleaned all the duvets and only practical furniture bring the attention of the inhabitants to the essential things and mind to rest. The large white bathroom with a large window reflects one of the main trends of the early twentieth century. Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene. Here, however, is a performance that is elaborate to the last detail. Therefore, in addition to the classic sinks, we find another higher one at the window, designed for brushing teeth. The chrome towel rail has one arm behind the bathtub wall and keeps the water in the bathtub warm at all times. And in the bathroom, we will finish our tour. If something is clear after a visit to this unique living space, it is the mind first and foremost.
The Semler Residence is a publicly accessible building managed by the West Bohemian Gallery in Pilsen. The valuable historical interior was used in a devastating manner for decades, inaccessible to the public, and the entire building has gradually been subject to ruin. The sadder part of his story began in 1939, when the Jewish Semler family is forced to transfer all their property to the Nazis and then emigrate to Australia. The house underwent a thorough reconstruction only after 2012, when it became the property of the Pilsen Region, which entrusted it to the West Bohemian Gallery. An extensive reconstruction and restoration work were planned in three stages. The last and most challenging phase was completed last year and the residence has been open to the public since September.
Thanks to expert work, perfect craftsmanship and preserved plans and period photographs, we can now see the building in its original form from the time when the Semler family lived here. Will (Vilém) Semler, the youngest of the sons of the owners of the house, who spent his adolescence here, contributed a significant help to the search for the original appearance of the house. Happy 100th birthday this year, Will!
Semler residence.. Klatovska trida 110. Pilsen. www.semler.cz
West Bohemian Gallery in Pilsen
Mgr. Gabriela Darebná
Ing. Arch. Petr Domanický
Photo: Petr Polák