Bucharest Art Nouveau House: Letter from A Reader

Bucharest Art Nouveau house, Dorobanti area (©Valentin Mandache)

Recently I had the pleasant surprise to receive a letter from one of my readers who has seen photographs of his house published and analyzed on my blog in two previous articles (Bucharest Art Nouveau House and Blue frame Art Nouveau Window). The house in question is one of the few methodically restored and renovated historical buildings in Bucharest. That was possible because, as I found out from the message, the proprietor is an experienced architect, who has meticulously restored his own house. The results are indeed remarkable, as I detailed in my articles. The edifice is designed in what I would describe as a predominantly Art Nouveau style, with some motifs and shapes recycled from the c19th historicist and other architectural styles popular at that time in Bucharest. The new and substantial information brought to the fore by my reader about his house are an absolute gem, enlivening this fascinating period property from Romania’s capital with mentions about its architect, previous owners and their often dramatic personal stories, detailing the laborious and difficult restoration works undertaken. The following is the letter received from my reader concerning this beautiful historic edifice:

Dear Sir,

I would like to bring to your attention, in my quality as the proprietor of the house described in your blog articles, the following additional information:

The house has been built in 1915 by a Czech entrepreneur, for his German wife. The architect was a member of the Storck family, the famous Bucharest artists, namely Jean (Johann) Storck. I have affixed a name tablet with his signature on the façade, next to the main entrance. The architectural style is a composite one (the client probably requested that), for example mixing together [nn in an Art Nouveau matrix] Neo-Romanian elements (on the street façade) with elements inspired from the German expressionism seen in such house examples from Berlin or Prague (on the courtyard façade).

Because the wife of that entrepreneur did not like the house, it was sold as soon as it was finished to a Romanian aristocratic family, the judge Constatin R. Sturdza and his wife Maria-Irina (nee Campineanu). The family was part of the high Bucharest society, but decent and quite religious when compared to the conspicuous frivolity and arrogance displayed by many among that class during those times.

Mr. Costantin Sturdza has been a front line officer during the Great War, the president of the Constanta County court of justice, and later a good lawyer. He also administered the land and farms that remained in his wife’s property after the radical state agrarian reform of 1923.

His brother became a Foreign Affairs Minister during the Legionary (nn the local Romanian fascist party) government in the first phase of Antonescu’s regime [nn 1940]. Constantin (aka Costache) Sturdza was vehemently opposed to the deportation by the Romanian fascist government to Trandnestria in the Romanian and German occupied Ukraine of the Roma/ Gypsy minority members who lived on his land properties (the family has a letter from those Roma people attesting that fact).

It is interesting that this house has been visited a few times by the fascist dictator Ion Antonescu, who came there for discussions with Costache Sturdza’s brother (before he took over the power in the country in the autumn of 1940). The meetings took place in the lawyer’s office on the ground floor of the building.

After the 23 August 1944 royal coup (nn when Romania broke the alliance with Nazi Germany, joining the Allied cause) the house became the residency of the General Radu R. Rosetti (an in law relative of the Sturdza family), the famous military historian of Romania. He was subsequently arrested by the new authorities and died in the Vacaresti prison.

Costache Sturdza’s wife has been one of the local Red Cross presidents, and their children were also distinguished persons, such as the navy officer, Dinu Sturdza (married with Ionana Rosetti, the daughter of General Rosetti), Ion Sturdza (an engineer, who has recently died in France), Maria Irina (married Fof) (an agronomist), the wife of professor Mihai Pop (the great Romanian folklorist) or Ileana Sturdza (married Cerchez).

Even the owner, Costache Sturdza, was forced to endure a few spells in political prisons between 1945- 1949.

The house was confiscated by the state in 1950, but continued to be partly occupied by the owners’ family until 1989. Among other communist era tenants of this house was the family of the actor Dan Nutu. They were also harassed by the communist authorities, but professor Mihai Pop has managed through his efforts and connections to protect them and avoid the worst prosecutions to which they were exposed because of their status as descendants of an aristocratic family.

Art Nouveau house, Bucharest, how it looked before and after the restoration works

After the 1989 regime change in Romania, the family has successfully reclaimed the property, which was by then in a very run down state as is shown on the left hand side column of photographs in the above collage [nn the right hand column shows images of the house after subsequent restoration and renovation works]. I bought the property in 2003, and being an architect by profession I restored and renovated it in all details after the long 45 years period during which it was badly maintained by a communist state property management company (ICRAL). Amid those works I discovered the original colourful frieze mentioned in your article, hidden under a layer of plaster put there by the ICRAL people. I had an excellent team of workers that assisted me throughout this laborious project, without any support from the state authorities in charge with the heritage buildings, and tried my best to bring it as close as possible to its original shape and details.

One of the interesting discoveries during the restoration works, was the blue hue paint that originally decorated the window woodwork and doorways, under thick layers of more recent nondescript brown paint. I noticed that you also mention the beauty of this blue paint (surprisingly many other people, uneducated in these matters, consider the colour as too strident), this being the original paint colour.

Art Nouveau house, Bucharest- before and after restoration

In the interior of the building, as can be seen in the above photomontage, I installed a central heating system, air conditioning, overhauled the electricity cables and its water and drainage systems, tanked the cellar and thermally insulated the loft ceiling. I consider this project as a salvage operation meant to recover something from the ART NOUVEAU atmosphere of the old Bucharest. Many other owners of such architectural gems in this city would be able to save them if the state authorities in charge with the heritage buildings would give them just a minimal support, which tragically is missing in this country. Your kind articles about this house made me very happy and gave me new hopes and I would like here to thank you for that! With respect, Architect GRS

I am truly moved by these wishes and the impact made by my articles and would also like to thank my reader for his fascinating pieces of information and nice words! I thus hope that my creative effort expressed through the blog posts and the relevant photographs would contribute somehow to the necessary attitude change among the public and authorities toward the conservation of the local historic architecture. Bellow is a close up of the beautiful 1910s frieze uncovered by the proprietor of this house during the restoration and renovation works.

The frieze of a predominantly Art Nouveau house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.