A DESIGN FOR LIVING: A Memoir of Vienna in the Twenties by Lillian Langseth-Christensen

A DESIGN FOR LIVING: A Memoir of Vienna in the Twenties

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Veteran cooking writer Langseth-Christensen (Gourmet's Old Vienna Cookbook, etc.) grew up in New York as the daughter of well-off, cultured Austrian ÉmigrÉs--and developed, at age ten, a highly unusual, remarkably refined obsession: a passion for the streamlined, black/white designs (in furniture, fashion, architecture) of Viennese genius Josef Hoffmann, as seen in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (""my absolute favorite of all magazines""). So, after much lobbying, 14-year-old Lillian, with hovering mother, arrived in Vienna to study with Hoffmann at his private schule within the national Applied Art School. The building itself was a disappointment: ""an unemotional nothing of a three-story structure with an astylar facade of ocher-to-German-mustard-colored brick with olive-drab trim."" So, at first, was Hoffmann: a terrifying, taciturn figure who appeared only sporadically, suddenly, to react to each student's independent work with simple directives--""no advice, no critique."" (His sole response to Lillian's first fussy, colored sketch: ""she could cut it in wood."") But she soon came to appreciate the brilliance of Hoffmann's approach, along with the primary joys of 1920's Vienna: clothes--especially those shown at the Hoffman-inspired Mode Salon--and food. Langseth-Christensen fills out her wry, fervent reminiscences of the Hoffman school with fine evocations of Viennese eating habits, and the social niceties that persisted amidst postwar shortages and patched brocade draperies. She also provides a useful mini-history of ""the Secession""--the 1890's esthetic rebellion led by Hoffman and Gustav Klimt. And the result, while fragmentary as a memoir, is gently witty, effortlessly charming, and stylish in a lean, Hoffmannesque way: flavorsome bedside reading, light and episodic, for connoisseurs of food, fashion, and/or decorative arts.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1987
Publisher: Viking