New owners breathe fresh life into historic chateau
The Czech Republic has been around for a while, in one form or another and under a variety of different names. What could be considered an identity crisis is occasionally reflected in their architecture. Baroque, Gothic, etc. can of course be found, but influences from countries like Germany and Italy also add to the unique make-up of these historic properties. A bit like the country, the chateau Mala Skala has gone through numerous owners, as many properties here have. The current owners graciously opened what is now their private home to us, giving us a personal glimpse of this stately building.
The first buildings began being erected in 1425; a fortress by one of the Wallenstein’s as a protection against the Hussits. It stayed in the family, and at the end of the 15th century, a more comfortable residence than the fortress was built by Felix of Wallenstein. It was sold to the Vartenberg family, who added a brewery and a well to the complex. The Smirickys were the next to occupy, but only for a short period before ownership was regained by Albert von Wallenstein in 1622. It’s unclear why, but a short four years later, Mala Skala became property of the Desfours who lived here for nearly 200 years.
In 1802, the property was sold to an Austrian businessman, Francis Zacharias Roemisch, who truly loved the chateau and surrounding area. Roemisch died in 1832, and because of the lack of heirs, the property fell into abandon and neglect. The Austrian/Prussian wars during this time did nothing to improve the property, until a Saxon businessman became the next owner to rescue MalA SkAla.
In 1869, Ludwig Oppenheimer began a major reconstruction of the property to make it into his holiday retreat. In 1902, another German, Dr. Wilhelm von Medinger, became owner, and at the end of World War I, Mala Skala was a popular resort. After World War II, the property was confiscated, and Medinger had fled to Vienna. Thus, a new chapter in the chateau’s history was opened.
From 1945 until 1998, Mala Skala was used as a pension for the employees of a Mlada Boleslav company. And beginning in 1998, Italians came to rule the roost.
The not-so-new owners (who have asked that their names not be shared to protect their privacy) had been living in England for a number of years. They both fell almost instantly in love with the place, seeing beyond the years of disrepair and neglectful reconstructions, to something that could be restored to its former beauty. The couple and their young son had taken on probably much more than they had bargained for: she was still living in England and overseeing much of the reconstruction from there, while her husband was already in the Czech Republic, dealing with the bureaucratic hassles that come with reconstructing an historic property. But they both persevered, and in December 1999, made the final move.
The work that had to happen before the place became livable was enormous: Twenty plus workers worked long shifts to put on a new roof, install new electrical and water systems, complete new flooring on the 3rd floor, tear out old bathrooms, while installing 11 new ones, knocking down old walls, completely re-doing the kitchen, changing the doors and replacing all the windows, not to mention work on the outside of the building.
“The concept of the house was beautiful,” says Mala Skala’s proud owner. “We just brought it back to its original state.”
For the 50 plus years before they became owners, when Mala Skala was a pension, the company haphazardly added rooms and bathrooms.
“People would ask how many bedrooms or bathrooms the new place had, and I could honestly not say,” she laughs.
Cheap construction of the “new” rooms coupled with neglect in other areas added up to a lot of work.
“When we bought it, there was still a coal heating system,” she says. “That had to be taken out, and a gas central heating system put in, as well as new wiring and plumbing. The outer walls are the only thing that really hasn’t been changed.”
Other interesting surprises were in store. The key for one of the pension’s “guestrooms” could not be located. When they finally got the door opened, they found a “propaganda” room, full of cables, listening devices and Lenin flags and posters, most likely used by the Mlada Boleslav company to keep a watchful eye and ear on their holidaying employees.
With 400 square meters on each of the three floors of the main living house, the project must have seemed overwhelming, but the results are stunning. Entering the home now, you are greeted with a wide hallway, painted in soft yellows, with soft grey and white marble on the floor.
“Everything was painted grey,” she says, of when they first purchased the home. “We kept some of it, but wanted a brighter look.”
The stairway to the second floor is the original, and the owners also kept the wooden steps and wooden floor on the second level. Five chandeliers throughout the home and a restored stove in the living room are about all that was salvageable.
Leading from the entry, down a few steps is the dining room, where they have placed their family’s crest in marble. The construction has a narrow, but flowing plan, with most of the rooms interconnected. Out the back of the building, from the dining room is a small sitting terrace. There you have the opportunity to enjoy the grounds: a three-terraced garden leads down the hill to the tennis court and a Baroque fountain is being refurbished. Mala Skala is located in the Czech Paradise area of Bohemia, offering the family bountiful nature literally off their back porch.
To the left of the dining room, through French doors, is the “gentleman’s room” complete with a billiard table from 1850. Mostly Italian furniture, low chairs and a dark ambience make this an ideal room to relax, smoke a cigar and sip a fine brandy. To the right of the dining room is a small and cozy parlor that leads into the kitchen. While it is structurally still the same, new modern equipment, a large wooden table and roomy pantry make it a much more functional area. Also off the kitchen, leading down to the basement is the wine cellar. A pleasing, natural space, the owners have kept the original brick floor and exposed stone walls.
Shades of grey and yellow extend to the second floor, combining well to offer an elegant, but warm feel. The wooden floor in the living room is the original, but a soft green now decorates the space, and matches perfectly with the large wide windows, framed in white, overlooking a beautiful view. Enticing you outdoors even further is the narrow terrace that runs the length of the building.
Again, the floor plan follows that of the first floor: long rooms interconnected along the back of the building. To the left of the living room is the family’s library, graced in darker woods with furniture designed by Czech artisans and decorated with paintings by both Italian and Czech artists. Homey touches are seen throughout; family photographs framed in silver sit atop the piano. Just past the library is her husband’s study; also decorated in a mellow green, with the same tall windows as in the living room, as well as a fireplace.
The other end of the floor is for the family’s teenaged son. Immediately off the living room is a TV room, and off the hallway is a small office (homework) nook and his bedroom, bathroom and an entertainment room anyone would be envious of – a dark wood floor, raised platform, a low couch plus lots of big cushions for hanging out.
The staircase leading to the third floor is decorated with drawings of Genoa, Italy, where the family is originally from. A large landing space is well-lit by large oval windows and decorated with a collection of Copenhagen china.
“Originally, this floor was all bedrooms and the bulk of the reconstruction was done here,” she explains.
The floor is mainly bedrooms now as well, albeit in a much lovelier manner and with a few less rooms. The “Chinese” room serves as a guest bedroom with hanging lanterns and an exquisite wardrobe decorated with Asian scenes. The couple’s bedroom is next, first the husband’s wardrobe; dark woods dominate along with glass-faced custom made cabinets.
“We had an artist copy a painted motif from a small cabinet onto the wardrobes,” she says.
Their bedroom is highlighted in dusty rose, but exquisite French hand painted wallpaper adorn the walls.
“It’s from 1810,” she says. “We bought it at an auction, had it resorted and framed in situ because the two panels were too wide to be carried whole up the staircase.”
Her wardrobe, decorated in dark reds is on the other side. Another three guest rooms – one cheerily painted in green and cream completes the floor.
The surrounding grounds are just as impressive, and work is continuing. The family plans on changing the former brewery, what they refer to as “the Caves” into a dance floor.
“They (the Caves) are 600 square meters,” she explains. “It was like a small Venice when we moved in and we had to design a special pump system to keep the water out.”
The former chapel is being reworked into a summer pavilion, right next to where the family’s four dogs reside.
The TLC the family had invested in the chateau is apparent at every turn. Looking through photos of when they bought the place, one can hardly believe it’s the same property. Back then, random walls and toilets seemed to spring up everywhere, and you wouldn’t have been surprised to find alpaca-covered couches or a pipe coming from the wall, designed as the shower. The owner has written a small book about the history of the chateau and surrounding area, including descriptions of the various reconstructions the property has undergone and photos of former owners.
So through centuries of owners, renovations, guests and history, Mala Skala has endured. Now the pride of an Italian family, the chateau has been renewed to what could possibly be a more glorious state then the elegant original.