Reconstruction of the house of Hedvika Liebsteinová and Jana and Jan Brummel

Husova 741/58 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7461210N, 13.3641546E

Adolf Loos’ first commission in Pilsen consisted of renovation of the house at No. 58 Husova Street in sight of the former Škoda Engineering Works. His intervention can be seen not only in the interiors, but also in the simplified forms of the building’s exterior. Emilie Guldenerová had the originally one-storey house with a Historicist facade built in 1885–1886 according to plans by the Pilsen builder Eduard Kroh. In 1907, the house was bought by Vilém Liebstein, a lumber and charcoal merchant, whose firm had its headquarters in the immediate vicinity. In the early 1920s, Liebstein merged his company with that of Jan Brummel, a construction timber merchant. The two men also became connected by marriage when Jan’s brother, Leo, married  Gertrude Liebsteinová in 1921 and a year later Jan married her younger sister, Jana. In 1928, the house in Husova became Jana’s property and her mother, Hedvika, also had a lifetime right to live there.  

The Brummels had probably been planning a major reconstruction of the property since 1927, for which they engaged Adolf Loos, who had been well-known in Pilsen circles since 1907. Loos, a native of Brno who became established in Vienna as an architect, invited Karel Lhota, an architect who had been a professor at the Pilsen industrial school since 1925, to collaborate with him. Loos and Lhota extended the house by means of a superstructure above the garages, which Vilém Liebstein had had added to the house in 1912. On the first floor of the new section, a representative room, large balcony and bedroom were created and above them, on the second floor, smaller guest rooms. The superstructure was meant to have a smooth, Purist facade, but the planning office instructed the owner to remove the Neo-Renaissance ornament from the original part of the building and to unify the facade stylistically. The older, one-storey part of the house thus acquired new forms, which can be seen, for example, in the grandiose entrance, above which the rectangular block of a new balcony projects from the facade. A row of windows was inset in a darker coloured band in the facade on the first floor level. The architects concealed the gabled roof behind a high parapet crowned with a cornice in order to match the flat roof of the extension, which faced the street with a smooth facade with one three-light window on the first floor and two two-light windows on the second floor. On the courtyard section, a massive balcony with a simple roof and a bedroom window protrude from the body of the house. Here, too, the architects relied on the aesthetic effect of blank surfaces favoured by Purists and Functionalists. 

Loos applied his unique artistry in working with space and colour in collaboration with Lhota in the entrance hall to the Brummels’ flat, which was accessed via a double staircase, the architectural design of which (at the request of the client) copied that of Goethe's Classicist house in Weimar, Germany, designed by the architect Georg Caspar Helmershausen. Loos complemented the white paint of the staircase handrail and white plaster with a dark-green wallpaper, contrasting with a red carpet on the floor and stairs. The colours in the hall and other rooms of the flat harmonised with those of a portrait of Hedvika Liebsteinová by the Hungarian painter Kalman Kemeny, which Loos hung on the central wall of the hallway. 

Loos conceived the entrance to the other spaces in a truly theatrical style – as a passageway through a narrow entrance hall panelled in waxed oak with dark-green wallpaper above. To the right of the hall the architect situated the couple’s bedroom and a bathroom with a large bath. He defined the individual functions of the bedroom space by using various ceiling heights. The highest entrance area with built-in closets led to a lower part with a wardrobe and dressing table and an even lower alcove with a double bed. The wooden features were made of cherry wood, the wallpaper was green and a rug on the parquet floor also had the same colour, while white silk curtains were pleated on the windows and above the bed. On the left side of the hallway were the representational spaces of the flat, the living room and dining room combined into one. The living room is to this day dominated by an enormous replica of a Provence Renaissance stone fireplace (ordered from the Viennese firm F. O. Schmidt at the request of the client), which exceeds the scale of the room. The architect designed a built-in couch with floral upholstery for the space below the window opposite the fireplace, as well as free-standing seating of various types (an Egyptian three-legged stool, a Thonet wicker chair and an American bar stool). He applied in the room, which was panelled with dark waxed oak, his favourite principle of axial symmetry, placing a glazed cupboard opposite the doorway. 

In contrast, Loos chose for the dining room light-coloured Canadian poplar panelling complemented with green wallpaper, green felt on the floor with Oriental rugs on top and yellow silk curtains. He placed two free-standing pillars on the line of the entrance to the living room, which divide the space functionally into a serving area and a dining area. The dining table was made by the Pilsen firm B. Bloch according to Loos’ design. The space is dominated by a large fresco by Robert Aigner. The serving area is furnished with two symmetrically placed sideboards with drawers and above them are large mirrors. The door between the sideboards led to Hedvika Liebsteinová’s parlour, which Loos divided, by means of a low wall with a fireplace containing a gas fire, into two sections: a working area with a writing desk and a living area with a seating alcove set around the fireplace and red and green leather armchairs also made according to Loos’ design. The architect had the wood panelling of the whole room painted in bright yellow and blue, with a wide band of wallpaper with a bold geometric pattern covering the upper part of the wall. (The present-day wallpaper is a faithful copy of the original preserved on the site.) The last room facing the street was Hedvika’s private bedroom, panelled in maple wood with a band of green wallpaper above it. The bed, situated facing the entrance to the parlour, was upholstered in dark-brown velour and served also as a couch. The furniture, including the seating, was designed for a lady – Loos designed built-in symmetrical jewellery cabinets at each end of the bed with rotating drawers and dressing tables under the windows with built-in mirrors. A wall of wardrobes on the north side concealed the door to the bathroom, which was interconnected with the kitchen beyond.  

During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the family’s property ended up in the hands of a German, Adolf Straub, who moved into the house and lived there until the end of the war. The original occupants of the house first moved into a room on the second floor, but in 1942 were transported to Theresienstadt and later to Auschwitz. While Hedvika Liebsteinová died in the concentration camp, Jan Brummel and his wife survived to see liberation. After the war, they returned to Pilsen to find the house and its original furnishings undamaged by the Allied air raids on the Škoda plant. Shortly after, the house was restituted to the family, but was subsequently lost to them again a piece at a time. In 1953 the living space for the family of four was reduced to two rooms – the dining room and the parlour – and in 1962 they were compelled to donate the building to the state.  

Although Loos’ interior had been listed as a monument since 1969, it underwent inappropriate modifications. The house was even threatened with demolition in the 1970s and 80s due to the development of the nearby central bus station. In 1986, after the death of Valérie Brummelová, who occupied the building, the house came under the administration of the Architects’ Club. That association began to renovate it and to modify it to its own needs, not quite appropriately, on the basis of plans by the architect Straňák. In 1991, the house was officially restituted to the original owners and in 2002 was listed as a cultural monument. Thanks to the unbreakable will and enthusiasm of Michal Brummel, nephew of the former owners, the valuable interior was restored to its appearance in the late 1920s according to plans by the architecture Václav Girsa, with the inclusion of original pieces of seating furniture that the family had safeguarded for years. Since April 2015, the restored Brummel apartment can be appreciated by the general public.


Jana and Jan Brummel


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