The Building

Die Villa Esche
A living space as an Art Nouveau overall work of art

In autumn 1898, the Munich-based magazine "Dekorative Kunst" (Decorative Art) dedicated a special edition to a young Belgian artist: Henry van de Velde (1863 – 1957). Van de Velde's designs and the language of objectivity and modern forms which were featured in this issue impressed the 24-year old Herbert Eugen Esche and his fiancée Johanna Luise Koerner. The young couple soon decided to have their first apartment, which they would move into after their marriage in April 1899, equipped with furniture by van de Velde.

This rented apartment was located in Kastanienstraße in the Kaßberg district of Chemnitz, one of the largest contiguously preserved Gründerzeit and Art Nouveau districts in Europe. In the summer of 1900, the young Esche couple eventually visited van de Velde in his private residence "Bloemenwerf" in Uccle near Brussels, which he had designed and furnished entirely by himself. An idea blossomed, which culminated in the Esches commissioning van de Velde to work on a second project in May 1902: Inspired by his ideas on the necessity for a uniform, well-reasoned living environment for the people, which is both functional and modern, as well as a penetration of everyday life through art, Herbert and Hanni [Johanna] Esche now desired a consistently designed living space following van de Velde's ideas – a living space as an overall work of art.

The design and construction of Villa Esche in Chemnitz was ultimately van de Velde's first commissioned work in Germany. The linear and functional design documents his rational approach to Art Nouveau. In accordance with the concept of an overall work of art, his design embraced all areas of the family home: from façades and room layout, to wall design and coverings, doors, windows, lamps and carpets, furniture, porcelain, silverware, letter openers and travelling blankets for the car... and even clothing and jewellery for the lady of the house. The Belgian also incorporated the spaciously laid out gardens functionally and artistically into the overall concept of the house. Virtually unaffected by the wishes and ideas of the building owners, Villa Esche is an exceptionally authentic testimony to the architectural philosophy of Henry van de Velde at that time.

In 1911, the house was once again subject to structural changes – likewise following the designs of van de Velde. During this time, a balcony on the south-west side disappeared, additional rooms were created and the ensemble received a somewhat symmetrical external appearance. The previously single-storey coach house for the family car was extended to accommodate a glazed orangery and accommodation for the gardener.