The Rothmayer Villa: A gem of modern architecture

By Tracy A. Burns

Rothmayer Villa in PragueCzech architect Otto Rothmayer designed a villa, located in the Břevnov quarter of Prague’s sixth district, for his family during 1928 and 1929 in what was then an isolated spot surrounded by fields. The exterior of the classicist-modernist villa is austere, lacking any sort of ornamentation. The windows are symmetrical, and the villa has a rectangular plan along with the cylindrical form of a large, impressive spiral staircase.

Otto Rothmayer

Otto Rothmayer was born in 1892 into a family of carpenters. He took up that trade, following in his father’s footsteps. Rothmayer studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague under Jože Plečník’s guidance, and the Slovenian architect would inspire Rothmayer throughout his entire life. In fact, the design of the Rothmayer Villa was greatly influenced by Plečník’s Villa Stadion in Ljubljana. Rothmayer’s skill at carpentry came in handy as he designed much furniture. He made furniture for the gurus of Czech Cubism, architects Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár. The furniture he designed that does not fall under the category of Cubism but is rather simple and practical can be found in his villa and garden, for instance. His white chairs forged from rough steel were a big hit.

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Work at Prague Castle

Plečník would not only be Rothmayer’s mentor but also his colleague. Rothmayer started working as Plečník’s assistant architect at Prague Castle in 1921 when Tomáš G. Masaryk was president of a young, democratic Czechoslovakia. Rothmayer even built a spiral staircase at Prague Castle, using what was then a new material – faux marble. When Plečník left his Castle post after 1930, Rothmayer continued to draw plans for the Castle until his retirement in 1958.

Other projects and the academic world

Rothmayer’s résumé does not only include his tenure at Prague Castle. He took up other projects, too. For instance, he designed three-family houses and a side altar for a church in the Vinohrady district of Prague. He also designed museum exhibitions. Rothmayer went into teaching as well. He held the post of Professor of Interior Design at Prague’s Academy of Applied Arts in the late 1940s and early 1950s when he left for political reasons. Rothmayer also was friends with photographer Josef Sudek, who took many snapshots at Otto’s Břevnov residence. Sudek’s photos set in the villa’s garden are particularly impressive. Otto Rothmayer died in 1966.

Božena Rothmayerová and Jan Rothmayer

Otto’s wife Božena made a name for herself as well. She designed embroideries inspired by folk art, purses, jewelry, and clothes. A snapshot at the villa shows her clad in pants and sporting short hair, signs that she was a modern, independent woman. Their son Jan, born in 1932, was an electro technician and amateur photographer inspired by Sudek. One of his poignant still lifes that visitors see in a video shows a flickering candle and a half-filled glass of wine. Jan died in 2010.

Some rooms in the Rothmayer Villa

The first room visitors enter features four Windsor chairs designed by Jan Vaněk, a Brno-based architect who also contributed to the nearby Müller Villa. The furniture is made of wood – spruce, pine, and ash wood. Rothmayer also often used wood as his material of choice. Visitors see a unique teapot that Plečník gave Rothmayer as a gift. In Božena’s room, examples of her embroideries are on display. Otto made all the furniture in his room, including a desk that can be easily moved back and forth in order to take advantage of the best light. In Jan’s room, visitors watch a thought-provoking video about the family and their artistic creations.

More rooms to see

The basement includes a carpentry workshop and a guest room where Sudek often slept in the 1950s. Plečník designed the armchair and table in the room. The Summer Study features a library decorated with small sculptures or figurines. Originally, a herb garden was located on the terrace.

Original furniture and reconstruction

Because the house was never confiscated by the state and family members lived there until 2009, much of the furniture and many of the fittings are original. Also, the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts had numerous pieces of Rothmayer’s furniture in its collection. The villa was under reconstruction from 2009 to 2015, when it was open to the public in the fall. Now it looks as it did during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Why tourists should visit the Rothmayer Villa

While the villa is relatively small, it is a superb example of classicist-modernist architecture. Tourists interested in architecture will not regret visiting this site. Reservations must be made in advance. Some tours are in English.

Other villas nearby

The Müller Villa, designed by Adolf Loos and Karel Lhotka from 1928 to 1930, is located nearby on Nad Hradním vodojemem Street in the Střešovice district of Prague 6. It is open to the public, too. Other villas on the same street are also impressive, some dating from the interwar years and others hailing from the 1970s, though it is not possible to go inside. There are even more villas with exteriors worth looking at in the Prague 6 environs. The Traub Villa, also in Střešovice, was designed in Purist style. The architecture of the Hypšman Villa, not far from the Müller Villa, was influenced by the Viennese modernist Otto Wagner. The Vondrák Villa in the Ořechovka section of Prague 6 features a gable in Art Deco style, and the Spála Villa, also in Ořechovka and built for painter Václav Spála, is characterized by a Purist and Functionalist style. Some architectural elements of the Kafka Villa designed by Janák for sculptor Bohumil Kafka include exposed brickwork and a peaked roof.

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