Positioned between the Winter Garden and the Library, the Villa Petschek’s Red Room was dedicated to smoking. It is a companion room to the Gold Room, or ladies’ salon, on the opposite side of the Winter Garden. Many aspects of the arrangement and decoration of the room follows guidelines for English drawing rooms as outlined in The Gentleman’s House by Robert Kerr, including windows oriented towards the south overlooking a terrace or garden. While drawing rooms are generally associated with the women of a house, usually as place to receive and entertain guests during gatherings, tobacco use at the time of the Villa’s construction was generally a men’s activity. The Red Room is therefore also referred to as the Herrensalon or men’s salon. (As the Petschek family spoke German, “Herren” is German for “men’s.”)
Modestly sized at 420 sq ft (approximately 37 sq m), the Red Room served as a space of retirement for the men during social events. During such events, men and women would mingle in the Winter Garden and the Gallery, before parting ways to their separate salon spaces towards the end of the night. The room features three access points: one entry from the Winter Garden, another from the Gallery, and another door into the Library. The largest and most grand of these entries is the doorway into the Gallery, which indicates that it was the intended entrance into the room. Circulation around the room would have likely been dictated by the placement of the furniture.
The revivalism of historical styles was a hallmark of the wider Beaux Arts movement in which style the Villa was built, and the Red Room appears to be styled mostly in accordance with French Classical Revival, at least as it is described by Elizabeth C. Cromley and Stephen Calloway in The Elements of Style. French Classical Revival featured glazed doors with semi-circular fanlights (391), “boiseries […] with shallow relief ornament,” (394) elaborately patterned parquet floors with luxuriant rugs (399) and French-style chandeliers (413). Damask wallpaper was also apparently a popular feature of Beaux Arts revivalism (394).
The Red Room features all of these stylistic touches. Appropriately named, the salon has silk wallpaper in a red damask pattern with matching red curtains. The walls of the room are also paneled oak, which is molded with intricate floral designs.
Contrasting with the boiserie and the wallpaper is the cream color of the parquet floors, which is in turn covered by a 3.7 by 5.15 meter Saraband rug. Other notable items of the collection include several items of Louis XV style furniture, circa 1760, including a bergère that depicts in its upholstery a scene from Aesop’s fables, a tulipwood and parquetry table, a tulipwood and kingswood table with a red marble top, and a pair of fauteuils.There are also three embroidered giltwood stools from Central Europe dating from the 1700s. In addition to modern lighting with contemporary lamps, the room is lit with four 18th century gilt-bronze chandeliers.
While smoking was still a gender-segregated activity by the interwar period, the fact that the Villa has a smoking room at all is somewhat historically anachronistic. Relaxing social mores and the shift from cigar to cigarette use, which produced less noxious smoke, meant that any room in a house could be acceptable for smoking. This anachronism is in line with the Project Manager from GEM Art Group, Peter Justa’s assertion that the Villa was built in a purposefully old-fashioned style. (GEM Art group conducted a restoration of the Villa’s facade in 2007.) Hidden inside an intricate custom cabinet within the wall is the room’s humidor, which stored tobacco at an optimal humidity.
EYP Architecture renovated the Villa in 2007, which included modernizing the building’s systems. This renovation was especially relevant to the Red Room, which contains custom cabinetry that concealed not only the humidor, but also the room’s radiator system. The replacement appears seamless and renders the room comfortable. Despite the care applied to updating the heating system, the Red Room houses bulky humidifiers, suggesting an issue with other aspects of climate regulation.
DSN S 546: Interdisciplinary Design Studio, Spring 2018
College of Design | Iowa State University
Preservation & Cultural Heritage Czech Republic: International Perspectives and Design Issues
Diane Al Shihabi, Ph.D.
Department of Interior Design
Mikesch Muecke, Ph.D.
Department of Architecture