The restoration and reconstruction of the Müller Villa began on November 23rd 1998, on the basis of a project drawn up by the GIRSA AT s.r.o. architectural atelier by a team led by Doc. ing. akad. arch. Václav Girsa.
In restoring the Müller Villa itself, parts of its exterior and components in the immediate environs, the project took as its central focus structural consolidation and the conservation of original materials; in this, to some extent (on the basis of the exact evaluation of expert investigation) it was necessary in specific cases to consider interventions that were more reconstruction than restoration (e.g. the reconstruction of the facing plaster layers of the facades, the replacement of parts of the masonry fence underpinning, the renovation of parts of the damp-proofing and the upper deck of the cast asphalt terrace etc.). The application of those criteria, characteristic of architectural restoration methods, meant in this case an effort to protect and, through restoration, attend even to those structural products and materials that in other cases might be regarded as commonplace, and thus replaceable by equivalent materials (e.g. the cladding of standard white tiles in the bathrooms). Likewise, the intention was also to restore the period joinery that forms part of the building (windows, doors, floors, railings etc.) as well as the collection of fitted furniture and facings – with veneered or lacquered surfaces.
Further efforts were directed towards stone, metal, glass and ceramic elements, and conservation methods applied in the case of the paper and natural fiber wall coverings. Thanks to investigation of the paints on the wall, it was possible to identify even the original shades used to decorate the interior (whitewashes and oil paints).
The renovation of the internal water and electricity supply that still enables the house to function was a complex problem. The architect selected a sensitive method, using the existing routes and locations of the original mains. Unfortunately, in some rooms – such as the family bathroom – the water system was not restored, due to the degree of preservation of the original wall claddings, and also because the bathroom, as part of the exhibition spaces, will no longer be used for its original purpose.
One of the most complicated parts of the whole Müller Villa restoration project was the search for period elements and materials. A major part in this process was played by public advertisements in the heritage and architectural press, and on televised reports dedicated to the Müller Villa. The greatest success, however, arose out of inspections of other 1930s buildings, where the necessary elements and materials were quite simply found: not only major fixtures, but often even such seemingly banal building materials as authentic white tiling etc.
A key part of the Müller Villa restoration was the reconstruction of the original garden, terrace and fencing designs, including restoration of plantings to plans from the years 1929 and 1932, to which not only Adolf Loos but also the three leading landscape architects - Camillo Schneider, Karl Förster and Hermann Matern - contributed. The discovery of the historical planting plans had a major impact on the project phase including the rehabilitation of the gardens. The reconstruction of the garden was approached in the same spirit as its creation – recognizing that it is an integral part of the Müller Villa as a whole, and a characterful creative act outstanding in its conception and the degree to which it was implemented. As a result, it is now possible to admire a precisely reconstructed monument to functionalist garden art of the 1930s.
In its closing phases, the rehabilitation of the Müller Villa comprised the installation of furniture, carpets and objets d’art in the interior. Several lost pieces of the inventory, important from the point of view of the architect’s overall conception, were reconstructed from available archive photographs and drawings. The interior is conceived as a copy of its appearance immediately after the completion of building work in 1930, when the presence and creative influence of Adolf Loos himself may be assumed; the interior fittings from this period are at the same time those documented by the original plans, period photographs and the testimony of a series of important visitors.
In May 2000 the renovated and restored Müller Villa was opened to the public with an exhibition based predominantly on the original historical furniture and artworks, complemented by the new Study & Documentation Center. The house has thus become a monument of worldwide importance to the architects, Adolf Loos and his colleagues, but also to the builder of the villa, Ing.Dr. František Müller. It is without a doubt the foremost contribution made by the City of Prague to the global public during Prague’s year as European City of Culture 2000.
The facades had been repaired in the past, and as a consequence the original layers of stucco had been damaged by later additions. The original layers were identified by careful testing. On the basis of laboratory analyses it was decided to remove the remains of the original facing down to the level of the brick, and to reconstruct both the plaster underlay and the outer stucco layers of the entire exterior. Although the reconstruction respected the original technologies, it was necessary to increase the lifespan of the alterations, both in terms of the composition of the plaster material and stucco, and of the subsequent water-resistant facing layer applied. Great attention was paid to achieving authentic color shades, and to the perfect reproduction of the surface treatment on the new stucco.
One of the more difficult tasks facing restorers of the exterior was to find a way of dealing with the problem of the authentic period technology of casting natural asphalt (for balconies, terraces and roofs). It proved possible to retain the original asphalt surfaces of the terrace outside the living room, and of the master and children’s bedroom balconies. Reconstruction of the upper terrace and roof was more challenging, with breaches being identified in the damp-proofing that required the complete reconstruction of the whole damp-proof course; the latter was modified to ensure that the building was properly protected in future.
The travertine cladding of the entrance with bench and paving into the garden. The original travertine elements were made using Bešeňov travertine, from a mine that is now closed. The most similar material for completing the travertine paving was found to be the ‘Travertino Türko’ from Carrara in Italy.
The opaxite cladding in the entrance hall was heavily damaged, with many sheets broken; it was therefore necessary to manufacture a new cladding comparable to the original opaxite, which is no longer made anywhere in Europe.
In the most public interiors of the villa, and especially in the dining room, lady’s boudoir, library and cloakroom, Loos used paneling from quality woods (mahogany, lemon, oak, maple), mostly with a high gloss achieved by using French shellac polishes. During restoration, cracks were stabilized, the original polish was removed, damaged and missing pieces of veneer were replaced, and a new surface applied. Polishing methods were selected to ensure that the original effect was obtained on each different type of wood.
Most of the wooden elements in the villa are lacquered using a covering wash. Detailed examination revealed the original range of colors, which it was possible to reconstruct using the original technologies. In the 1930s decorators used only oil-based paints, differentiated according the locations in which they were to be applied: ‘dry washes’ were used for interiors, while glossier ‘greasy washes’ were used outside. In the Müller Villa, all of the indoor washes, with the exception of those in the cellars, were rubbed down, and their surface treatments were semi-matte. All of the lacquered elements were restored, where possible, by disassembly followed by the chemical removal of the lacquer layers in the workshop. After removing the paint, smoothing down and securing of the structure, claddings were given an oleo-alkyde lacquers and rubbed down in the classic manner.
To emphasize the monumental impression of the living room, Loos selected a cladding made from a rare type of green Cipollino marble brought from the Alpine town of Saillon, in the valley of the Rhône in the Swiss canton of Valais. Even before restoration began, it had been realized that that a considerable portion of the cladding was fractured, and weathered to the point of collapse. The effects of condensation and the diffusion of water vapour had led to the weathering of the sheet facings, immediately apparent in the surface structure and the light coloration. During restoration, the weathered sections were removed and the material cleaned. Subsequently, the whole marble area was rubbed down and after pigment retouching was waxed and polished.
In those interiors serving the hygienic needs of the family, white ceramic tiles and fittings were employed. Prior to reconstruction, the kitchen and bathroom tiling was heavily contaminated, and damaged in many places. Equally, the toilet fixtures in the bathroom were broken or missing. It was therefore necessary first to clean the tiles of their encrusted dirt, lime scale and rust marks. In the kitchen, the bathroom and the toilet any tiling that was not original was removed, and replaced by 1930s cladding that in color and size matched the originals. The hand basins and toilet bowl had to be reassembled from broken pieces and then retouched.
During the surveys and the subsequent restoration of the painted surfaces of the interior, a surprising range of colors was identified within the house. The contrasting color concept of the two children’s bedrooms was a fresh discovery. After very careful cleaning of latex deposits and ochre brush graining from the lacquered walls in both rooms, as well as the lintels and furniture, the best preserved, retouched surfaces served as reference patterns for the originals. The other areas were repainted with colors mixed exactly according to the original shades.
In preparing the restoration, it was necessary throughout the building to remove later painting and, most importantly, the latex washes that had damaged the original underlays. Careful cleansing in the walls brought a wide range of previously unknown and surprising information regarding the original color schemes of the interiors. At the same time, more precise details were obtained as to the original positioning of furnishings, light fittings, switches and other elements, and the overview of later interventions was filled out. After documenting all of these discoveries and correcting the project design to account for them, the original colors of the photographic darkroom were restored, as were the original green shades of the maid’s quarters and the purple color of the guest bedroom.
The original paper and natural fiber wallpapers survived in a heavily damaged state. In some rooms (such as the conversation room) only pieces of the original wallpapers survived, identified by the restoration team beneath many layers of paint. This room now contains a purple paper wallpaper reconstructed on the basis of the original pattern identified during the surveys.
The restoration of the French paper wall coverings in the bedroom was extremely complex. Given the preservation of the wallpaper throughout the room, it was decided to restore the original coverings despite their being heavily damaged and degraded. During the restoration this wallpaper was very carefully cleaned, consolidated and, where missing, replaced by imitative retouching using tempera paints. Once the whole surface was colored, protective fixative in the form of beeswax was applied..
Furniture and objets d’art
The original pieces of free-standing furniture and objets d’art were stored as exhibits in the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague, the National Gallery in Prague and the West Bohemian Gallery in Plzeň. Thanks to the co-operation of all these institutions, it was possible to return all of the surviving items to the interiors of the Müller Villa. Those items which had not survived were of necessity remade in the form of copies authentic in terms of shape, materials and technology (e.g. the couches in the library, the couch, chairs and table in the living room, the seats in the Japanese room). The models for these copies were similar pieces from collections in Prague and Vienna. The upholstery was selected from the firm of Friedrich Otto Schmidt in Vienna, who had supplied several pieces of furniture chosen by Loos himself to the villa in 1930. The main criterion of selection was the greatest possible similarity in color and material to the originals, whether partially surviving, discovered by research (e.g. the last fragments of the original grey-green and pink velvet from the Knieschwimmer chairs in the living room were found between the upholsterer’s tacks) or new replacements based on analogous deduction from archive materials. A particular problem was posed by the purple velvet on the original, surviving couch, which occupied a central place in the living room. Extensive damage to the original upholstery required a combined approach to reconstruction: only the band of relatively well-preserved material at the plinth of the couch was restored, while the remained was covered with new velvet prepared in Vienna to match the structure and color of the original.
Valuable paintings and sculptures from the Müller family collection were also returned to the villa interior, and comprise works by leading figures in Czech modernist art (Jan Preisler, Adolf Kosárek, Otakar Lebeda, Antonín Slavíček, Jan Štursa and others). The art collections also included a valuable series of Japanese colorized woodcuts by Sakino Hokusai and Gototei Kunisada (copies of these prints now decorate the walls of the summer dining room).
Reconstruction of the garden
The rehabilitation of the Müller Villa included restoration of the adjacent garden and immediate environs. Reconstruction of the original garden layout, including its plantings, was to the original concept by Adolf Loos, and the rediscovered original plans by the renowned landscape architects Camillo Schneider and Karl Förster. The assortment of plants in the beds essentially reflects the selection documented by a detailed proposal of 1932, with modifications to Schneider’s original design by Förster and Hermann Matern. Circumstances required that minor changes be made to the range of species chosen, particularly the irises, clematis, chrysanthemums and dahlias: the varieties originally employed are no longer grown, and more recent ones thus had to be substituted. A bed of peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) and rudbeckias (Rudbeckia fulgida) links to the perennial borders of the bastion; visual continuity is shown by the colored flowers on low walls in front of a dark background created by ivy (Hegera helix) covered buttresses.