Sisustaja magazine on 9 December 2008. Nursed back to life, Villa Margaretha shines once again in Tartu’s Karlova district. The former residential building, bakery, library, and furniture store is now a small and lively hotel, whose interior offers much to discover for the art expert and the ordinary visitor. Completed in 1911–1919, the building was erected by photographer and businessman Heinrich Riedel for his wife Olga Natalia Margaretha Koit-Riedel. To this day, there are unstudied periods in the building’s history. It is, however, known that the remains of Lieutenant Julius Kuperjanov, fallen in the War of Independence, were laid to rest from here. During Estonia’s first period of independence, the building housed a bakery and café, while a library named after Lydia Koidula and a furniture store occupied it during the Soviet period. The former villa was renovated for over two years, and now serves as a small and cosy 17-room hotel. The renovation project was authored by Anu Kuulback, and interior design was done by Üllar Varik and Signe Tarve.

Poetic Art Nouveau interiors. Villa Margaretha’s genuine Art Nouveau furniture has been collected from St. Petersburg, Estonia, and Finland by Raigo Kessel, the owner of the still-operational Vallikraavi Antiik, who, by then, had been working with antiques for over a decade. Acquiring furniture from across the border was made possible by good connections in Russia. Bedrooms of the Villa’s suites originate from the famous Melzer factory, and represent the Russian dialect of Art Nouveau. The tiled fireplace in the coffee room on the first floor is from the city of Vyborg.

European zen. Art historians tend to be ambivalent about Art Nouveau – some hold it as the beginning of modern art, and praise it as the last coherent art movement, whereas others cast it aside as kitsch or handicraft. Though Art Nouveau’s golden age lasted for only 25 years, it had a profound effect on 20th century aesthetics. Its characteristic emphasis of clear surfaces and the avoidance of sharp corners was not just limited to graphic art but also applied to interior design principles. Art Nouveau borrowed much from Japanese art – asymmetric compositions, motifs from nature and society, respect for empty spaces, and the drawing of clear lines. Japanese art did not captivate Western artists with exotics, but rather with its natural simplicity. Art Nouveau sought to erase the distinction between ‘lower’ applied art and higher, free art – an ideal for which the Japanese artist-craftsman was just the personification. Europe attempted to do what the Japanese had always done. Art Nouveau’s free-running lines were mainly inspired by nature, to which the artist added their own contribution. The willingness of architects and designers to acknowledge these new forms and themes was partly grounded in the search for a new kind of spirituality which would represent external and internal oneness with nature, while casting aside the inhumanity of a growing industrial society.

The villa’s interior designer Üllar Varik: The villa uses both ‘new-old’ and antique furniture. Villa Margaretha is lucky to have so many historical pieces of furniture to embellish its interior. We have also chosen period-authentic wallpapers, which were, for the most part, printed by hand in the Finnish company Pihlgren&Ritola, using natural paints. The suite’s wallpapers are made by the Finnish company Sandudd. We have chosen soft and pastel colours for the interior, for which the building’s exterior, already completed by the time we began our work, was of great help. The wallpaper patterns were finished quickly, because there were not many Art Nouveau-patterned fabrics which would correspond to the hotel’s fire safety requirements. Designer Anneli Timm helped to select the fabrics and produced the curtains. The villa’s rare ceiling and wall paintings were initially in very bad condition. They had been repainted using oil paints several times during the Soviet period, and cleaning them took a long time. The varnish found in oil paints had absorbed into the colour wash, and caused major damage to the paintings. The wall and ceiling paintings depict flower garlands and bouquets, with a touch of patriotism added by a cornflower. The wallpapers’ edging of flows in a very Art Nouveau fashion. It was started by interns from the Tartu Art College, and finished by Kristiina Ribelus and Kadri Toom.