Writer Nancy Houget Takes AD Inside Her Family’s Hunting Lodge in the Austrian Alps – Architectural Digest
All my childhood friends spent their summers in East Hampton or on Martha’s Vineyard, but my mother took my brother, Geoff, and me much farther afield. Lower Austria’s Styrian Alps took some getting used to, given that we lived in Princeton, New Jersey. Instead of swimming or sailing, we spent the holiday with our cousins amid tens of thousands of acres of dense, dark-green private forest, a Grimms’ fairy-tale landscape teeming with bears, red deer, foxes, chamois, and wild boars. And I had to wear dirndls; yes, dirndls.
Hunting is what attracted my solemn great-grandfather Baron Albert von Rothschild to Lower Austria in the 1870s, shortly before he married his teenage French cousin Bettina. Though their Vienna home was a grandiose neo-Renaissance-style palace by a Paris architect, Albert commissioned Fellner & Helmer, a leading Vienna firm, to build him a rustic wood Jagdhaus, or hunting lodge, that would be used only for the two-week rutting period in September, when stags descend from the mountains and bellow loudly for mates.
Gabled and fretworked, the lodge charmed everyone and had just enough room for the family (Bettina and Albert had seven children) and a few guests. An increasing number of sportsmen and women visited, too, which resulted in a smaller lodge being constructed close by the main building and connected to it with a long, glazed hyphen. I can remember riding my blue tricycle down that sunny passage and yelling at all the antlers that still hang between the arches, pretending they were dangerous beasts à la Maurice Sendak.
Back then the seasonal household consisted of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and my formidable but loving English grand- mother Clarice. She ruled the roost and could talk about anything, yet one subject never came up: when the lodge was confiscated by the Nazis and then the Russians, and finally returned to the family after the war. As the years passed, Geoff and I, and eventually our children and friends, experienced it as our elders had always done: hiking, fishing, and hunting. And wearing lederhosen and dirndls, which we still do—it’s a family tradition—even if blue jeans are now more common.
The lodge, made of wood inside and out, has an organic quality, since it was meant to blend into the landscape of pines and beeches, part of which is now a conservation area. Stenciled red flowers blossom on the carved pine beds and Bauernstühle, or farmhouse chairs, that my great-grandparents ordered for their board-and-batten rooms, while the velvety runner on the main staircase is as green as pine needles.
Hunting references are everywhere, though we’re just as likely to be playing charades as stalking deer. Chandeliers, door handles, drawer pulls, and lamps are fashioned from antlers; delicious chamois leather covers sofas and armchairs; and an 1870s Franz von Pausinger drawing of stags fighting to the death ended up in the dining room. From the antlers in the entrance hall to the grouse in the piano room, many of the trophies were bagged by our great-grandfather—and all of them bear small plaques listing the name of the hunter, the date, and where on the property they were shot.
Guests said the trophies gave them nightmares, so Geoff and I removed them from most bedrooms. Still, the lodge looks much the way Bettina and Albert would have known it. The pretty carved and painted beds retain their prewar horsehair mattresses and timeworn linen sheets, and looming tile stoves known as Kachelöfen warm some rooms. Kilim cushions and colorful covered jars are among my contributions to this ancestral decor, the former picked up in a Marrakech souk and the latter hauled back from Istanbul. Our kids’ dormitory is centered on the ping-pong table that my brother and I grew up with. Their bedrooms, each with slanting eaves and a single window, are tiny, so small they could be out of The Hobbit, a world many people imagine when they come to visit.
As for my room, it is a jumble of old objects and pictures, heirlooms as well as more recent finds, such as an icon of Saint George. I designed the four-poster, working with local craftsmen, and draped it with a soft, sheer fabric speckled with wildflowers. Since there is only the occasional black y, the lodge’s windows have no screens, so I just pull the bed curtains closed and fall asleep to the sound of the waterfall— and, if the timing is right, all those stags roaring well into the night.