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Stepping into the Mind of Freud

For the redesign of our Freud Suite #63, architect Elfrid Wimmer-Repp embarked on a journey of discovery through the Sigmund Freud museums in Vienna and London. With great sensitivity, she crafted spaces that invite you to embark on an immersive journey into the past and mind of the renowned Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Discover more about the creation process and the inspirations behind the new Freud Suite at the Altstadt Vienna. In an interview with Saskia Wiesenthal, Elfrid revealed how the spirit of Vienna and Freud’s legacy influenced her design choices:



The Interview in full length

How did the collaboration between you and Altstadt Vienna come about?

I have known the hotel from the very beginning and was involved in some considerations regarding the design. I furnished a few rooms and was involved in the implementation of the Thun rooms and several suites. During my last visit, Otto Ernst showed me a newly furnished room. As we passed by room 63, he mentioned in passing, "The Freud Suite also needs to be refreshed." That's how it started.


What were the first steps in conceptualizing this room? How did you approach engaging with Sigmund Freud?

I began reading and researching and, at the first opportunity, made my way to Berggasse, knowing that Freud's residence, turned into a museum in 1971, had been sensitively redesigned by Austrian architecture great Hermann Czech.


The previous use of the rooms is made illustrative but not reconstructed. In 1938, Freud had to emigrate to England, the apartment was dissolved, and the furniture taken to London. Thus, there are many voids, including the place where the psychoanalytic couch once stood. This poignantly alludes to the dark course of history.


I was captivated by this atmospherically charged place full of memories, the remaining color traces on the ceilings and walls, the remnants of white-lacquered built-in cabinets in the hallways, and the cloakroom in front of the consultation room. These elements served as my inspiration.


In the cloakroom, you have used a bast back wall – please tell us the background of your choice.

Yes, the aforementioned cloakroom is painted in a delicate sage green and has panels covered with a raffia or bast-like fabric, with brass coat hooks attached. This perfectly suited the narrow, long hallway of the Freud Suite. The length is somewhat mitigated by the contrastingly colored panels, further enhanced by the mirrored wall in the angled niche, where small sculptures of Chow Chows, Freud's beloved dogs, are placed.

What challenge did designing the rooms in the Freud Suite pose for you? And how did you overcome it?

The numerous photos of Freud's study show this incredible overcrowding of the rooms in the late 19th-century style. Full bookshelves, the few remaining wall spaces adorned with prints and photos, clearly recognizable are Marie Bonaparte, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and the chanteuse Yvette Guilbert. Above the famous couch hung a central picture of Abu Simbel, next to it a plaster cast of the Pompeian Gradiva with a dried papyrus branch tucked behind the frame, and a picture of Ingres' Oedipus and Sphinx.


Above a display case hung the famous depiction by Pierre A. Brouillet, showing Charcot presenting a hysterical woman to his students at the La Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris — one of those lectures that deeply impressed the young Freud. Incidentally, I suggested this image as the surface for the Frame TV.


In front of these book and picture-covered walls were glass display cases and tables covered with Oriental rugs, topped with display cases filled with countless statuettes, torsos, and busts of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, or Chinese origin. Even the desk was half-covered with rows of statuettes. I was fascinated by this knowledge-driven collecting passion, with the many mythological stories associated with it. But at the same time, I began to think about how the impressions of such an overwhelming collection could be transferred into a hotel room.


Slowly, the idea matured to think of these stories of objects, the books, pictures, and statuettes, in layers or overlaps. And the symbolic patterns of the Oriental rugs also tell stories, which became the conceptual connection.


The carpet that stretches from one wall to the next shows many figures and was specially made for the Freud Suite. What inspired you to do this?

In 1938, Edmund Engelman was able to photographically document Freud's practice before the furniture was packed up and shipped to London. I worked along these images. The famous couch stood in front of a tapestry and was covered with a Smyrna rug and large cushions, complemented by smaller carefully wrapped pillows. This juxtaposition of textile surfaces, an abundance of images, and ancient god figures flowed into the carpet, which spans the room like a shawl, functioning as a backdrop that can accommodate all of this. These wall hangings serve as both the headboard of the bed and the back of the sofa.


I had already had good experiences with the company HTW in Herford with a carpet for Schloss Leopoldskron. Using a laser printing process, the color is applied directly to the fibers of the tufted white base material, creating a special depth effect. The existing image material was layered, rotated, mirrored, and altered to avoid copyright issues. This was worked out together with the Salzburg artist Erik Hable.

Our designers are always asked to think about an interpretation of the Viennese feeling of life and to depict it. What is particularly Viennese for you about the Freud Suite?

Just entering the entrance of Hotel Altstadt feels Viennese to me, passing by Frau König, the soul of the house, and walking up the beautiful staircase to the mezzanine to get the key. Searching for the room on one of the many floors in corridors where you already know every wobbly concrete tile feels like coming home. Having real neighbors and being right in the middle of the city also contribute to this flair.


I also find the room arrangements that have emerged from old apartment layouts to be typical of the Viennese feeling of life. In the Freud Suite, this is expressed in the long hallway, the WC with a window to the courtyard, and the large bathroom that has been refreshed and now features a freestanding tub. The impressive room heights, high doors, and windows also play a significant role. Additionally, the lacquered furniture, the bast wallpapering of the cloakroom, and the existing Viennese furniture like the desk and the Thonet rocking chair all contribute. Everything new that is added complements, enhances, or consciously contrasts with the already Viennese elements. Like a melody that becomes richer with additional voices.


What do you associate with the Viennese feeling of life?

Alongside the open entrances, elegant staircases, corridors with Wienerberger concrete tiles, and generous room proportions, I also associate it with classic, traditional furnishings, bathrooms with black-and-white tiles, high built-in cabinets with plenty of storage space, heavy curtains and drapes, a special appreciation for well-crafted furniture from the 60s and 70s, classic chandeliers in the center of the room. Scattered throughout, I see chairs by Haerdtl, Frank, or Rainer, glasses by Lobmeyr, lights by Kalmar or Vest, porcelain by Augarten on table linen by the Swabian Virgin, and exquisite craftsmanship from the Wiener Werkstätte. I find it particularly Viennese when all this is well mixed with inherited items or personal favorites, original designer pieces, a touch of kitsch, and contemporary art.

How does this manifest in the room, the furniture, the materials?

The bathroom already existed, with the corner built-in tub replaced by a freestanding one. The mentioned wardrobe echoes the color and paneling of Freud's apartment, with classic shapes and white lacquer. A commonly used milk glass pendant hangs in the center. Smaller forms are in the hallway, with brass wall lights and custom-made bedside lamps. New additions include the Equatore floor lamp from Fontana Arte and the Leumu table lamp from Iittala. The desk and classic Kaiser Idell lamp remain. Curtain rods were custom-made to match the room's style.


Finding a replacement for Freud's famous couch was challenging. I considered the Barcelona Couch by Mies van der Rohe but ultimately chose the Five to Nine daybed by Studiopepe for Tacchini, inspired by early 1900s designs, with leather-covered rolls evoking a minimalist Bauhaus effect, reminiscent of Heinz Frank's 1970 design.


At the head of the couch stood Freud's fauteuil. I chose Flaviano Capriotti's Sunday chair by Poliform, a compact, plush chair that represents intimate socializing, paired with the oval Lato table by &Tradition.

What can you tell us about the color concept?

In the anteroom, the color "Pigeon" by Farrow & Ball is used, similar to that in Berggasse. The carpet had to be ordered early due to delivery times, determining the colors. The laser printing process offers thousands of possible colors, and a 1:1 sample must be confirmed immediately. Initially, I envisioned peach tones inspired by Ernesto Neto's "Tractatus IDeuses" installation at the Freud Museum in 2005. However, these colors were too pale. The chosen tone resembles the rust-red velvet furniture in Freud's anteroom, where the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society met weekly. It seemed more fitting, shifting slightly towards cognac to complement the rich leather color of the couch.


What is your favorite element/object in the room?

I love all the furniture. It's always a bit nerve-wracking to select new pieces from brochures and data sheets without experiencing the material or sitting on them beforehand. I find the old wooden swivel chair by Sedus from the 1940s and the Iittala lamp on the sideboard particularly appealing, both ordered online. I'm happy when the items fit well and match each other.


How much of your personal style do you bring as a designer, or do you eventually completely detach from it?

As a trained stage and costume designer, you're conditioned to emulate all styles. I believe it's important to handle the existing elements carefully and research extensively. Personal style is expressed through good forms, proportions, materials, thoughtful detailing, and color coordination, and I think it can be felt. Yes, I've brought something very personal. As a child, I received a beloved edition of Greek myths by Gustav Schwab with wonderful illustrations by John Flaxman. These are also found in the carpet around the couch area.

How should the guest feel in your suite? Who do you see in there?

Pragmatically, a guest should immediately feel at home, finding everything they need effortlessly. Good lighting for reading and working, relaxing, and sleeping well are basic requirements. However, I also envision a curious guest, one who ponders the visible signs of the design, perhaps letting the patterns of the figures on the couch inspire unusual thoughts.


They might also contemplate how psychoanalysis from Vienna influenced the world, considering the impact of Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. He once said, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of group thinking, it will be possible to control and steer the masses according to our will, without them knowing it.” He essentially invented public relations, working for companies like the American Tobacco Company, where he doubled sales by targeting women as consumers. But simply daydreaming is also perfectly fine.


Do you travel often yourself? What are your requirements for a hotel room?

I love to travel and am curious about new hotel concepts and their narratives. I enjoy sitting with your father at breakfast, listening to him describe new achievements in architecture and design, and the new hotels he has discovered on his many trips.

My requirements are simple; I like to be surprised, prefer a personal touch without a lobby, and love being right in the midst of things when leaving the hotel.


Your conclusion?

If guests come to love the room and you are satisfied, I am pleased. I am grateful for the collaboration with your staff and craftsmen who know the hotel well. Many plans and samples were sent back and forth between Vienna and Salzburg for review. A special thank you to Barbara for handling the scheduling and execution.

84 Rooms

Altstadt ViennaKirchengasse 41, 1070 Wien, Österreich, Tel. +43 1 522 66 66, hotel@altstadt.at