Field Trip In the Czech Re­pub­lic, an old house morphs into an el­e­gant get­away

A top-to-bot­tom retro­fit trans­forms a 16th-cen­tury Czech town­house into a chic get­away


PRAGUE-BASED PETR ŠTAJNER never ex­pected to buy a house in Mikulov, a pic­turesque Czech wine town some 250 kilo­me­tres south­east of the cap­i­tal. But when, out of cu­rios­ity, he went to have a look at a his­toric prop­erty for sale at the foot of Mikulov Cas­tle, he couldn’t re­sist. “I could see the hills of Aus­tria, Falken­stein Cas­tle and vine­yards from one side,” the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­ec­u­tive re­calls, “and Mikulov Cas­tle and the Holy Hill and its chapel from the other.” Just as com­pelling – and un­like other homes in the area – the house had re­tained much of its 16th-cen­tury charm, even if a lot of it was hid­den.

Af­ter an ex­ten­sive re­vamp, the house Štajner bought is now Šta­jn­haus, a five-room guest house (two of the of­fer­ings are apart­ments with kitch­enettes) de­fined by the prop­erty’s orig­i­nal, Re­nais­sance-era char­ac­ter. Fea­tur­ing a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic that in­cor­po­rates mod­ern fur­nish­ings while re­spect­ing the struc­ture’s past, Štajner’s new ven­ture was de­signed by nearby stu­dio ORA, which de­scribes the com­mis­sion as more process than project. “At the be­gin­ning we were hired mainly for the in­te­rior,” says Jan Hora, one of ORA’S three prin­ci­pals. “But as con­struc­tion con­tin­ued, we were sur­prised by what was un­cov­ered.” Among the orig­i­nal fea­tures they came across were orig­i­nal lime plas­ter in one of the bed­rooms, old open­ings in the cel­lar and orig­i­nal paving. “The project needed con­tin­u­ous re­vi­sion,” Hora says.

Lo­cated in what was once Mikulov’s Jewish quar­ter, the house has no de­fin­i­tive date of ori­gin, but can be traced back to at least the 1500s thanks to the build­ing tech­niques used and the records kept by for­mer in­hab­i­tants. “We wanted to make the in­te­ri­ors very as­cetic,” Hora says. “It was al­ways a house in­hab­ited by peo­ple of mod­est means.” (These in­cluded a barber and a lathe op­er­a­tor.)

“That’s why we used af­ford­able ma­te­ri­als, such as steel and ash wood, and rough de­tails. We wanted the hands of ar­ti­sans to be vis­i­ble.”

In 1926, the house was dam­aged dur­ing a ma­jor fire that dev­as­tated the quar­ter. Nu­mer­ous ren­o­va­tions fol­lowed, cov­er­ing up the orig­i­nal fea­tures. One of these was the floor in the main en­trance, which the ar­chi­tects dis­cov­ered was much deeper than they had ini­tially thought – a fact that al­lowed them to carve out a grander first im­pres­sion. Now, the en­try­way is cov­ered with hand­made Moroc­can tiles. A metal chan­de­lier de­signed by ORA in the shape of the Star of David hangs from the vaulted lime­stone ceil­ing.

Vaulted ceil­ings can be found through­out the house, in­clud­ing in a suite called the Yel­low Apart­ment (each of the five rooms or suites is named af­ter the colour of its painted spruce-plank floor). Two of the build­ing’s rus­tic stair­cases are orig­i­nal, while those curv­ing down to a wine cel­lar and tast­ing room are newly made from mas­sive oak beams.

All of the cus­tom-made fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing the ta­bles and beds, was de­signed by ORA and made by lo­cal crafts­peo­ple. “Ev­ery­thing is cus­tom,” Hora em­pha­sizes. “Even the door han­dles.”

While each of the suites has its own dis­tinc­tive fur­ni­ture and feel, the ma­te­ri­als used and the clean aes­thetic over­all en­sure a stream­lined con­sis­tency through­out the struc­ture – and be­yond. Lo­cated in the newly added at­tic, for in­stance, the White Apart­ment looks out to the views that prompted Štajner to ac­quire the house. “Ev­ery­thing is part of the whole,” Hora says. “There are no straight walls – ev­ery­thing is curvy. We didn’t want to hide that.”

Šta­jn­haus, Al­fonse Muchy 13/300 Rooms from $75 to $150/night. sta­jn­

Hand­made Moroc­can tiles make a vi­brant first im­pres­sion in Šta­jn­haus’s foyer.

A table made from beams sits in the tast­ing room.

Rus­tic curved stair­cases lead to the lower lev­els.

All of the fur­nish­ings, in­clud­ing beds, are cus­tom.

The guest house’s White Apart­ment is lo­cated in the newly added at­tic.

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