‘Bydleni’ Magazine Comes for a Visit

My Place

My Place

In April the Czech interior design magazine ‘Bydleni‘ (‘House’) sent a photographer and editor to my apartment in Prague to take some photos. The plan was to make a photo spread for their June edition, which hit the stands in early May.

One of things of I love most about living in Central Europe is the architecture. Over the years, I’ve developed something of an eye for historical styles like Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, but the styles I enjoy most are the early-modern and modern looks like Functionalism, Mid-Century and even ‘Communist’ (not sure too many Czechs would share my enthusiasm for the latter period).

While I can’t put my own apartment in the category of great architecture, I will say I was strongly influenced by modern styles when choosing a place to buy a few years ago, and then on how to design it.

Later, I intend to write a post about buying and remodeling an apartment in Prague (or Central Europe) for anyone wanting to (or foolish enough to) take the plunge, but for now I’ll just post a few words about what I was thinking and some photos from the Bydleni spread.

Functionalism

My apartment was built in 1930 or ‘31 (I’m not entirely sure). The reigning style at the time in Central Europe was ‘Functionalism’ or ‘Bauhaus’ (the two terms are interchangeable for what I’m talking about). Functionalism trumped Art Nouveau in the early 1920s and never looked book. The mantra was ‘form follows function’. Excessive design was seen as an aesthetic crime. Instead, designers looked to the emerging industrial technologies in home-building, and through the use of quality materials and modern layouts plans hoped to achieve something of high art for the every man.

Brno was the center of Functionalism in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s and in 2008, I wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal on the best Functionalist architecture in that city. Here’s a link to the original story.

After the Crash

By the time my apartment was built, however, Functionalism’s high point had already been reached. By 1931, the effects of the 1929 stock market crash in New York were keenly felt in Europe. Designers at the time were still producing those arty boxes (which is what the best of Functionalist architecture looks like), but expensive materials (like marble, onyx and others) were no longer affordable. That’s where my place comes in: a poor man’s Functionalism.

I’m okay with that. When I first spotted my place in 2008, I loved the clean lines, horizontal roofs, and simple but balanced external elements like the windows and terraces. Of course, I liked the grand old apartments from the turn of the 20th century in Prague in the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical style, with their high ceilings and wooden floors, but my place felt somehow cleaner more honest. Its modest design and materials were more in keeping with my occupation (and income) as a travel writer. I bought it.

When I signed the purchase agreement, the interior was a ruin. The previous tenant, an old man of modest means, had lived there for years and pretty much everything had to be gutted. I tried to preserve as many of the original elements as possible, but only the wooden door and window frames had survived unscathed. Everything else I had to put back myself.

Clean, Modern Space

And that’s what you’ll see in the photos. I didn’t want to recreate a fully ‘Functionalist’ apartment in the 21st century (that would have felt like a museum); instead I borrowed a bit of Functionalist philosophy to use the most up-to-date technologies available to create a clean, modern living space.

I made a few major structural changes to the layout. I knocked out a wall between the kitchen and the living room and replaced the wall with sliding glass doors. I converted the original layout’s tiny kitchen into a bedroom closet. The biggest (and most dramatic) change was to build an enormous, oversized bookcase (that now covers the apartment’s western wall in the living room).

It’s a modest apartment, but one I think has unique style and that could serve as a model for others trying to infuse some individuality into a 1930s box. The editors from Bydleni caught that to some degree, though the article itself harps on the apartment’s 1950s appearance. I wasn’t entirely pleased with the result, but hopefully others will see the photos and possibly the article will lead to contacts with others around town who share my passion.

3 Thoughts on “‘Bydleni’ Magazine Comes for a Visit

  1. martha on July 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm said:

    Nice! Have you any “Before” photos you could show? Those would be fun and interesting to see.

    • mark baker on July 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm said:

      Hi Martha, thanks for the visit. I will dig around for some ‘before’ photos and post if I can figure out this wonky photo upload 🙂

    • mark baker on July 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm said:

      Hi Martha, Thanks for the visit. I will look around for some before photos and upload them (provided I can figure out this wonky photo upload feature!) 🙂

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