Österreichische Werkstätten

Handicrafts for the Future — Österreichische Werkstätten

Vienna was a highly reputed center for design and architecture just over 100 years ago. The world-renowned Wiener Werkstätte even had a branch on Fifth Avenue in New York – but this was only short-lived because of financial problems and wars.

In 1948, Österreichische Werkstätten was founded by a circle of well-known Austrian craftsmen and artisans including Josef Hoffmann, Oswald Haerdtl, John Backhausen jun., Hans Harald Rath, Carl Auböck and Karl Hagenauer. They drew on the spirit of Wiener Werkstätte by bringing beauty into people’s everyday lives through functional forms, good-quality materials, and solid craftsmanship.

The designs created by the founders are still used by ambitious craftsmen today. Österreichische Werkstätte is closely-linked to these artists. I would like to find out why this is the case and what lies behind this evocative name for my blog. Karin Lichtenegger, who is the Managing Director of OEW, is the perfect person to ask these questions.

I would like to know if the demands of handicrafts and design in 2020 differ from those in 1948.

Ms. Lichtenegger explains without hesitation: “The goal of Österreichische Werkstätten was and is to bring beauty into people’s lives. Local, high-quality artisan handicrafts are our main focus, as well as products inspired by Art Nouveau, Art déco, Wiener Werkstätte, Josef Hoffmann and Gustav Klimt. There are also new Austrian designs in our product range. However, contemporary design vocabulary is different to that of the founding generation. Many objects seem even clearer, more reduced than in the time of Josef Hoffmann. There are objects whose shapes have been changed a little or have been modernized but retain the timelessness of the original design.”

I would find it quite difficult to make selections for the shop and would like to know which products get into the store and what selection criteria are used to decide this.

Karin Lichtenegger explains the criteria: “The Österreichische Werkstätten brand is traditionally associated with high quality. This credo, established by our founders, is followed strictly – although the durability of products also plays a considerable role, too. Ultimately, the products should create enjoyment for decades. Excellent design is timeless.”

The store at Kärntner Strasse 6 demonstrates that excellent design looks even better in a perfect setting – the store was revamped in 2018 and given a clear design vocabulary. How did the customers react to this?

 “The reaction of our customers was unbelievably positive,” said Ms. Lichtenegger, with visible pride in the awesome shop – “Our products look more prestigious thanks to the new shop design and can be found in a fitting sales environment.”

The generous entry door into Kärntner Strasse makes barrier-free entry into the shop even easier and the jewelry section has been upgraded through a separate consultation zone with seating.

The way to both floors has been marked in striking wallpaper in the style of Josef Hoffmann. The OEW bar welcomes shoppers to take a relaxing break on the upper floor.

And what about the customers, I ask my interview partner – are they mostly visitors from abroad or is OEW a flagship for local design that attracts Viennese and Austrian customers?

 “Half our customers come from Austria and half from abroad. We try to appeal to both customer groups through our wide range of products that includes classics by well-known Austrian manufacturers and craftsmen, as well as new, creative designs.”

“The product range at OEW focuses on local, high-quality handicraft work and is, thus, really loved by the Viennese,” I learn.

There are, of course, evergreens among the products on offer – glass vases in the style of Josef Hoffmann and Wiener Werkstätte, and OEW’s own porcelain series Art Déco have developed into best sellers in recent years.

The shop has been redesigned and the products are sought after – “Is there something you are particularly proud of?” I ask Karin Lichtenegger.

Yes – she says with a smile – the store design concept, which was developed by dioma Visual Marketing Agentur under the direction of Marco Dionisio and created by architect Kurt Mühlbauer, which won the German Design Award 2019.

I can only congratulate her on that – the store is really amazing and creates a special shopping experience – miles from the kitsch and souvenir shops that have unfortunately proliferated in Vienna …

“Absolutely, this was the confirmation that our chosen way is the right one.”

Toward the end of our conversation, I would like to take a look into the future and ask about up-coming products or events that we should take note of. There is also a clear answer to this question: “We are constantly developing new products that flow into our range. There is also currently a special exhibition dedicated to the 90th birthday of Professor Ernst Fuchs in our basement. The special exhibitions change every six months.”

I say goodbye to my interview partner and am convinced that the quality of the products makes a walk to Kärntnerstraße 6 well worth the visit.