Stillfried Wien, a trove of design from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, lies one block south of New York City’s bustling Canal Street. The store and gallery, which opened in fall of 2013, is a welcome addition to a city saturated with pieces from Italy and Scandinavia. Proprietors Anna and Michael Trubrig moved to Manhattan from Vienna last July, she leaving a career in marketing and fine art importing, he a job in hedge fund management. The couple has since corralled a short list of historic manufacturers who are reinvigorating their inventories by enlisting new talent. We asked them how the new, vintage, and customizable wares they sell embody today’s Austrian design.
How would you characterize furniture coming out of Austria and Germany?
Michael: It has a tendency to be a bit more "lean." The pieces begin with manufacturing techniques, seeing what’s actually possible, then going toward the design. The designers and manufacturers we work with are interested in the whole process.
Anna: The focus is on functionality and sustainability. It’s a very Austrian thing to work with natural materials like wood, stone, glass, and silver.
Why is there a scarcity of shops in the United States focused on design from Austria and German-speaking Europe?
Michael: During the National Socialism Movement, many of the intellectual and creative elite, like Walter Gropius, Josef and Anni Albers, and Marcel Breuer, were forced to emigrate. Some, like Ferdinand Kramer, returned to lead a brief creative push in the 1950s. Overall, though, the following period was rather affirmative and not innovative in its design. While there were talented practitioners, there was a certain void in the second half of the 20th century. In the past decade, a renaissance in contemporary design has appeared. It’s driven by a coordinated effort from designers, manufacturers, politicians, and educational institutions.
How do the manufacturers reflect the present day while still holding true to their heritage?
Anna: People our age have taken over the family-owned businesses and manufacturers, like J. & L. Lobmeyr [a glass company] and Mühlbauer [a hat maker]. Augarten, a nearly 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer, had a tradition of introducing young designers. Back in the 1920s, young designers at the forefront of Germany and Europe made all of the china.
Michael: It’s a business decision. You have to stick with your roots, but you have to change with the times. People are not interested in buying the same things.
What pieces represent this new take ?
Michael: Austrians like to use traditional materials but incorporate something new and experiment with the process. The Tram armchair by [Austrian designer Thomas Feichtner for Czech manufacturer] Ton is one of my favorites (right). Its shape—a combination of bent and molded wood—is reminiscent of seats on the tram in Prague.
How do you select pieces—both vintage and new—for the store?
Michael: We’re drawn to pieces that strike us as special and beautiful. A home has a very different character if you have vintage pieces instead of all-new furniture.
Anna: Aesthetics are one point, but we really like to have as much solid wood as possible in our furniture.
Why is solid wood important?
Michael: It’s durable. Take the Flaye table by Team 7—if you spill something on it, you can sand it down [to remove stains]. This is a table you can have for 50 years.
How does the shop’s look complement what you sell?
Anna: We worked with Nikolas Heep and Mia Kim on the ceiling. They are based in Vienna and have collaborated with Augarten and Lobmeyr. It’s CNC-milled MDF painted gold, and it resembles the caning on the Viennese coffee chair. Michael hung it himself. People come in just to take pictures of it.
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