Vienna, sweet and tart at the same time
Monica Singer and Marie Rahm - aka POLKA - have proven themselves very successful in creating iconic product designs for various renowned producers. The Hotel Altstadt Vienna challenged them with their very first interior design project. Learn how they got inspired by Vienna's ambiguity in the following interview. And have a look at rooms #51 und #37 in the video at the end.
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Would you like to stay in rooms #37 and #51? Or a similar one? They are both Double Rooms Large Reloaded. See more Reloaded Rooms here.
You'll find the whole interview to read after the pictures of the rooms.
The interview in full length
When and how did you start your collaboration with Altstadt Vienna?
It all started with a phone call from Otto Wiesenthal: “Don’t you want to design a Hotel room?” There were no specifications. We just had to do it. That is probably the best vote of confidence that a customer can show us. The furniture that we designed for Wittmann actually caught his attention. He liked it a lot, so he researched who was behind it, then offered us his cooperation. And since you get this scenario quite rarely, where you can blindly trust that person and do exactly what he says, have no budget requirements, and choose between two rooms… we chose the room with the beautiful view.
A bit later, you were asked to design another room…
A year later, we got asked the same question again, if we wanted to make another room. We were highly interested, since it meant that we could work again on the atmospherics of a room. And I believe as designers, we work differently on a room than on another product. A bit less architectural and more on the smaller details, where you could really notice the finesse in the work. In hotels you have a compact room, a kind of black box, that you can fine tune from the inside. In this particular room there are quite a few of our pieces, some of them were specifically made for this room. A bit as if we would have designed an entire stage.
You’re coming from industrial design, and this was your first interior design project. When you received the phone call, were you excited about it, or did you need some time to think about it?
We wanted to do it immediately. It’s a beautiful task, and from the first moment we were excited about the house, about it’s atmosphere. We believed that we would do a good job.
We worked on many various products, on different types of themes. In that field of work it is always important to have a process, a blueprint or an idea in mind. Be it for an object, a product or a room. Hereby the designing process is always seen similarly as the brainstorming process.
And it orientates itself strongly towards people, as we the people tend to observe things. How do people interact with objects and things, and what kind of possibilities would open up. Here we wanted to offer the guest the possibility to put him/herself in the room, and to also change it. Using this curtain system that we have installed on the ceiling of the room, one can manipulate the viewing angles in the room and thus create a sort of intimacy. It was important to make the open bathroom separable by curtains, so that one could bring in a small bathroom to the room, rather than have it as two separate rooms. Like this there would be no limitations to this room, and would thus create a more flowing, relaxed and pleasant tone, which was the main motive that we wanted to give the room.
The colour mood of the room is rather quiet, muted, and mostly colourless. And yet the bathroom shines in a rosé colour and gives a strong spatial effect.
If room 51 was your first design project, did you tackle the construction of the room differently a year later?
No, not really, since the room was completely different to what we thought, and we anyway wanted to find a completely different theme. It was rather important for us, and that’s also in the idea of the spirit of the hotel, that we do not implement the same idea, but rather find an interesting vantage point, and thus we dedicated the second room towards the sweet side of the Viennese lifestyle. Like this we wanted to give our guests an insight, give them a few hints to what our specialities are, such as cakes, Punschkrapfen and various other sweets that Vienna has to offer.
And then the Chocolate room was created, which has chocolate-like leather upholstery on the headboard of the bed.
An ideal add-on for the Otto Cake.
Yes, the idea went on quite graphically. In room 37 there are red cherries, just like in the cake, so cherries are the garnish. They exist as wardrobes and as door handles. On the cake packaging they are usually seen as a red pointy circle.
And the Punschkrapfen (a Viennese punch cake) was our greatest source of inspiration for the bathroom, from its colour scheme to its sweetness.
We left you with a lot of freedom when it came to designing the rooms. Nevertheless, it was important to us, that you incorporate Viennese components and the Viennese lifestyle into the rooms. Is the idea of Sweetness linked to Vienna?
I believe that it’s more of a mix, which you can feel in both rooms. It’s a sort of Ambiguity that defines Vienna. It’s sweet, but also a bit tart, tangy or even edgy. It’s open, but at the same time closed. I believe it’s this contradiction that makes Vienna so exciting and distinguishable. That there are many undefined intermediate interpretations as you rip something off and you make a quote of it. And still, there’s more room for interpretation for the user to find him/herself in it. And because we both live and work in Vienna, breathe its very air.
That’s how it’s reflected in our work. You rarely have lots of space in a hotel, and newer buildings are quite lower. People notice the difference and the grandeur of buildings like this one., They notice an older building, and often the façade sticks out until one notices the practicality and stylishness of the older style, and that it comes well to light. You notice that the rooms as well, the existing attributes of the room contribute very strongly towards a Viennese flair. We designed it that way.
What do you want to emphasize about the interior of the room?
In the Chocolate Room that would be the cake lamps, which were specifically made for that room. The lamps here in room 51 were made for an English company, to which we adapted here using our own resources, so it’s pretty much like a special edition. The chair “Alma” was designed by us for Wittmann. Most of the furniture, the cupboard, and the shelves were specifically designed for this room. Also the cake shaped carpet in room 37.
You left your imprints not just in these two rooms. At check in every guest receives something you designed, our beautiful lanyards.
We wanted a striking and unique motif that we see well here. We then came across the idea of using badge ribbons. They were produced in masses in various beautiful colours, just here around the corner in a small back alley. We made some of our own, using our colours. Each floor has their own colour, or colour scheme, and then we designed our Altstadt lanyard, it’s the pink one, and the idea was to use these loops as key chains for the room keys with plaques. We found it so conclusive, after all, this type of old official badge is indeed quite Austrian. There were beautiful colours that we couldn’t use, and since they were out of reach, we decided to design our own colour combination for the rooms. Each guest is something special, therefore deserving a badge. That’s why, upon check in, not only do they receive their room keys, but also a badge.
You have taken it a step further, as we had adapted your beautiful ribbon design for our orientation system.
That was indeed our second step, where we were able to newly design your orientation system. The idea was to transfer the colour scheme from the key chains to the walls. It’s those horizontal stripes that partly open in arrows and then lead the way, one way. It’s exciting to find your way here, seeing that the room is so well hidden.
While designing the room, did you have any favourite guests in mind? Who do you think would feel comfortable in this room, and whose room is this?
Actually, that would be us. That was the way we tackled the idea, a rather personal one, as in, which hotel room would we feel comfortable? Well, we would like to have our ideal rooms.
And actually, everyone would like to feel comfortable, and I don’t think that it would have been a good idea to work towards a specific person’s ideal room. You take the approach of, if it would please me, if it would please us, then surely it would please many more. Naturally, taste varies between many people, but hotels can tolerate it. It is in a hotel where one can do many things, you wouldn’t be able to do at home, in a generous way.
The mindset of mainly thinking about oneself, maybe even think selfish, I think it’s not wrong. On the contrary, we can’t do it right for everyone, and we don’t even want to. So you actually are designing for just you, and yet you dare implementing out-of-the-common things in the hotel. Is how you live quite differently than here?
Yes, of course. Personally, at home I believe that we have a mix between old inherited items, and newer ones. We had it quite colourful, but now we’re trying to make it a bit calmer, since the everyday hustle can rather be big. But of course I think that you would live differently at home, compared to the designed hotel room.
A hotel room is mostly just a room, a box so to say. In a house or an apartment it’s a cluster of rooms, especially in Vienna, as there are many older types of building one after the other. We live in a much more colourful room compared to this one, yes.
You come and go a lot, travel a lot. Do you have any other favourite hotels other than Altstadt Vienna? Why? What must it have?
We do have a favourite hotel; we actually designed it. Pretty exciting, seeing that it’s rather unconventional. The Guesthouse Oberjäger. A neighbouring house close to the Esterhazy Castle, a very nice hostel castle. It’s rather simple. We designed 7 rooms, and each room is different from the other, with a different colour scheme, a different theme, and in the middle a nice big cooking station. From the furniture it’s quite different than here. Here we are in the 7th district, compared to the countryside of Lackenbach. We had to capture the spirit of being outdoors, and offer it indoors, that you would feel comfortable and find the right interior that would fit the exterior.
We found a very eclectic style for the rooms. Actually quite mixed, but very personal, like in a friend’s home. With very defined colours and themes, which we brought in on the spot. Botanic themes, like a mulberry. We have matched each room, there’s the mulberry room and a rose themed room, and downstairs we have one with animal names, one being the dragonfly or bird room. The nature and the surrounding then naturally spill into the room.
Is it open? Can you already visit it?
It’s done, yes. For about a month. It’s called the “Gästehaus Oberjäger”.
Exactly. I personally find it crucial when staying in hotels, that you can feel your surrounding and the city at which you’re staying. There’s nothing worse than finding out that each of the other rooms are practically identical. I find that I’m most comfortable when I’m out and about, visiting the city, visiting friends; it’s always nice to bring a bit of the everyday life into it. I’m reluctant to being a tourist anywhere, and this works out very nicely for Altstadt Vienna, as you have the feeling that you are right in the middle of things, that you could live here.
Anything you’d like to add?
The good thing that I find about coming here, is that you receive a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere from all the staff members. It has integrated itself nicely in their work. It has a nice atmosphere, nice teamwork, you would always be welcome, even if you would just come here for a nice sip of coffee in sit down in the salon. That alone is worth a lot.
Thank you very much.