Reading an Art Nouveau brass plate


I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.


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

Antique Booksellers House

The Antique Booksellers House has been one of the iconic buildings of old Bucharest, unfortunately demolished during the fascist period. This video analyses its architecture, a mix of La Belle Epoque Art Nouveau and post-Great War Neoromanian, examining it in its topographical and architectural context. The conclusion is the Antique Booksellers House (Casa Anticarilor) was probably an edifice and institution that started in the 1900s and re-established after the war in the 1920s.

Clamshell doorway awnings from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti

Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)
Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)
Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau letter box plate

Art Nouveau letter box plate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest is an interesting Art Nouveau province, located at the geographical and in many aspects architectural periphery of this style. That is why the Art Nouveau designs occur mostly fragmentary, in small bits and pieces on buildings that display overall conservative c19th historicisit styles or on some early Neo-Romanian edifices. That makes them less visible for the the untrained eye, constituting one of my favourite past-times to spot them. The letter box plate from the image above is one of those discoveries, adorning the Little Paris style doorway of a 1900s house in Mosilor area of Bucharest. Its lettering style renders, somehow in a provincial Art Nouveau manner, the free flowing plant leaves so peculiar for this style, making it quite evocative for the manifestation of this current in this part of the world.

Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Below, is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project in Chisinau

Chisinau (Kishinev), the capital of the Republic of Moldova, is blessed with a fascinating mix of period architecture dating mostly from the second part of c19th and the first half of the c20th, reflecting the evolution of architectural tastes of the Russian Empire, Romania and the Stalinist Soviet Union. The city contains a number of attractive Art Nouveau style edifices, the most spectacular being a recent remodelling of a Fin de Siècle house, which I encountered during my recent Chisinau trip. The edifice is mentioned on the well documented website “Centrul Istoric al Chisinaului“, which is a comprehensive database of architecturally valuable buildings in the historical centre of the Republic of Moldova’s capital. At the entry detailing the house, which was compiled before the start of the remodelling project, is mentioned that the façade used to be Art Nouveau (named “modern” in the terminology of the Moldovan architects), but completely erased of its decoration during the vicious 1990s post-Soviet property boom. It seems that in the intervening time an enlightened proprietor has decided to bring something back from the edifice’s former glory, as the photographs, which I was able to take from the street, amply testify. In my opinion is a tasteful remodelling and it might also be in the spirit of the original decoration that adorned the house, as I believe the owner had access to old plans and photographs from which the contemporary designer could guide him/her/self. It reminds me of another Art Nouveau project from scratches which takes place in Bucharest, which I documented in 2010 on this blog. I believe that this particular instance is a positive development for Chisinau, and the post-Soviet world, in raising the awareness and appreciation about the local architectural heritage that suffered so much during the two world conflagrations of the c20th, the Soviet era or the most devastating for heritage last two decade since the Soviet empire fell.

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project, Pushkin Street, Chisinau (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: first floor balcony decoration (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: detail of the pediment decoration, 1st floor balcony (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau:  detail of the pediment decoration, 1st floor balcony (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: window pediment decoration (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: pilaster capital (©Valentin Mandache)
Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: detail of doorway pediment decoration (©Valentin Mandache)

1900s decorative tiles for birthday celebration

1900s decorative tiles, Ana Aslan Institute, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Today is my birthday and I would like to celebrate it with a photographic array of decorative tiles dating from the 1900s, embellishing the façade of Ana Aslan Institute in Bucharest. The tiles display characteristics peculiar to the Art Nouveau style, one of my favourites. Bellow is a photograph of Diana and me taken yesterday, Sunday, in the near evening hours, after we had a nice celebratory dinner, followed by a walk in the beautiful Icoanei Garden area, surrounded by spring flowers and the soothing sunlight so characteristic of this season and latitude.

Birthday celebration, Bucharest, Icoanei Garden, April 2012

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Sample of photographs from Saturday 31 March tour: the Art Nouveau architecture of Bucharest

Historic Houses of Romania tour: Art Nouveau Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The tour was well attended and we had the opportunity to see and discuss in detail some of the most important and spectacular Art Nouveau architectural structures of Bucharest, scattered over quite a large area stretching from Lascar Catargiu boulevard to the University Square. The highlights were three churches that exhibit brilliant Art Nouveau features: Amzei, Boteanu and the Russian Church, the most magnificent Art  Nouveau monument (the building is in the Neo-Russian style of the 1900s, expressed within Art Nouveau coordinates) of Bucharest. I hope that the few photographs presented here, which I took during the tour, would do justice to those wonderful sites, now so much ignored by the Bucharest people and authorities.

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Art Nouveau gate

Art Nouveau style gate dating from the1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This article is on the theme of today’s architectural tour on the Art Nouveau style of Bucharest. The photographs present a rare Art Nouveau style gate found during one of my tours last year. It is in a quite run down state, but still preserves its design details from the 1900s period. I like the gate handle and the decorative lock plate, which in a nutshell convey the air of those times.

Art Nouveau style gate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau balcony

Art Nouveau style balcony, 1900s apartment house, Izvor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am planning an Art Nouveau architecture tour for this Saturday, announcement to follow. I hope that this image of a Bucharest Art Nouveau style balcony would act as a foretaste for that event. The ironwork of the balcony contains abstract representations of flower motifs. Also Art Nouveau are the plaster decorations embellishing the window openings. Unfortunately the attractive over a century old design of this apartment house is diminished by the air conditioning units affixed without any regard for aesthetics, a situation encountered at every step and corner in Bucharest. The air conditioning units are still seen as a high status symbol (as the satellite dishes not long ago) by the local property owners and consequently are “flagged” with impunity even on the best period buildings of this city.