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The furnishing and decoration of the interiors

The 1932 Vienna Werkbund Estate was not merely an architectural exhibition with 1:1 models; besides showcasing type houses for the estate of the future it was also principally an attempt to redefine the culture of modern domestic living in Vienna. In keeping with the carefully thought-out groundplan solutions which focused on maximizing living space and connecting the house with its outdoor surroundings, the furnishings and decoration of the houses were also intended to meet the demands of modern life. The houses on the estate were completely furnished for the duration of the exhibition – partly by the architects who had designed them and partly by interior designers and housing reformers who had been invited to participate – and were intended to instruct and enlighten the visitors to the exhibition. 

Participating companies and furniture stores

More than 200 companies accepted the Werkbund’s invitation to supply their products, including the very latest kitchen and household appliances, for the furnishing of the show interiors. These items ranged from furniture by well known companies such as Thonet-Mundus or Herrgesell, together with upholstery and decorative fabrics from the Vienna Indanthrenhaus (an outlet for fabrics made using indanthrene dyes produced by the IG Farben company) to lighting fixtures made by the Kalmar Metalware Workshops. In keeping with the ideas of the Werkbund, a collaborative project was set up between the people responsible for furnishing the show interiors and commercial and industrial companies, resulting in a number of new designs produced specially for the exhibition. The Haus & Garten home furnishings company founded by Josef Frank and Oskar Wlach in 1925 furnished the interiors of three houses, while the BEST (Advice Bureau for Interior Design and Domestic Hygiene of the Austrian Association for Housing Reform), whose director was Ernst Lichtblau, also supplied the furnishings for several houses. The interiors made a very heterogeneous impression, with state-of-the-art tubular steel furniture placed beside stained bentwood chairs and in some cases even a number of antique pieces. One of the features that particularly stood out was the wealth of colourful fabrics and textiles which gave the houses a warm, homely character. 

Neue Wohnkultur: The new culture of domestic living

In the official catalogue accompanying the Werkbund Exhibition, Josef Frank briefly defined his concept of Neue Wohnkultur: ‘As far as the furnishing of a small house is concerned, it is wholly unproblematic. Cupboards should be built-in, as far as possible, in order to replace the lack of attic [storage] space. The rest can be easily moved about, does not belong to any set, and displays no uniformity in form, material or colour, so that it can be substituted or supplemented at any time. The only important thing about furniture is that it does not take up any more space than it deserves by virtue of its practical value. What type these objects are, whether they are old or new, is entirely unimportant. Only he who approaches the designing of a small house completely void of prejudice, taking cognizance of only the objective conditions, is capable of building and furnishing in a truly rational, that is, ‘modern’ way’.

Text: Anna Stuhlpfarrer