Josef Hoffmann
Pair of sconces


Limed oak stained black, bevelled mirrors, silver plated alpaca.

Marks: rose mark, WW, JH, KS.

Executed by the Wiener Werkstätte, metalwork by Konrad Schindel.

Made for the dining room of the Stonborough Wittgenstein
apartment, Berlin.

Christian Witt-Dörring writes :

Josef Hoffmann’s design for the dining room in the home of Jerome Stonborough and Margaret Wittgenstein also included four sconces, each with three candles. They were intended as extra illumination for the room in addition to the large electric glass chandelier. However, their function within the interior far transcends that of plain and simple ambient lighting. Since the room’s furnishings had to be positioned with deference to a number of asymmetrically installed door and window openings, the sconces act as an ingenious vehicle for Hoffmann to counteract this and thus restore a balanced and harmonious spatial impression. He uses them to transform a room structure dat- ing from 1887/88 into a modern interior in accordance with his ideas. Without recourse to any architectural reconstructions, he managed to remodel his interior into the aforementioned type solely by means of furnishings and wall design. The furniture – together with the sconces – creates the interior architecture. The latter are deployed as architectural element and only in this context can their design be fully understood and interpreted.
Since the wall areas are asymmetrically distributed, they de- termine the placement of the furniture: the sideboard on one of the broad sides of the room between room corner and the concealed door leading to the master bedroom, the half- height sideboard cabinet in the centre of the free wall between vestibule door and the corner, and the cabinet on the opposite longitudinal wall between the window and the door to the drawing room. However, the large sideboard is not positioned in the centre of the available wall space, but is pushed to the extreme right edge, hard by the concealed door. Voluminous, fashioned out of limed oak stained black and standing in front of white walls, the furniture has an enormously expansive pres- ence and develops an intense life of its own, disturbing the clarity of the space. Hoffmann resolves this problem by attaching four sconces to the walls. They act as catalysts, enabling him to create an optical connection between the separate pieces of furniture and thus visually bind them to one another. The placement of the sconces is not primarily related to the furniture, but to the space. They create a uniform, upper horizon, which has a balancing and becalming effect. This is contingent to the uniform heights of the sideboard and the cabinet and requires the sconces to be hung up flush with the top edge of the cabi- nets. Only in this context can we understand the idiosyncratic, asymmetrical placement of the large sideboard. Pushing the latter to a position hard by the concealed door gives Hoffmann enough room to hang up the left-hand sconce. Meanwhile, the one at the right is placed in the centre of the narrow wall in the free space between the concealed door and the right-hand corner of the room. The two sconces are placed symmetrically in relation to the wall and thus similarly contribute to tranquillising the space. Hoffmann does not in- troduce the two remaining sconces as a pair, but hangs one over the centre of the small sideboard cabinet. Contemporary photographs supply no evidence on the position of the fourth piece. But it is certain to have been installed on one of the remaining free wall spaces so as to round off the horizon.
Since the sconces must be interpreted as part of a continuous horizon within the room, their top edges must perforce be assimilated into this as well and thus be devised as a straight line. Therefore Hoffmann conceives a design that is analogous to the rest of the furniture: a square, limed oak stained black frame with a mirror fitted into it. Continuing the underside of this frame he attaches a downward-curving board of the same material, which, in imitation of these outer contours, bears a half-bowl made of hammered and silver plated alpaca. This receives the nozzles for the three candles. The elongated and curving bottom edge gives a longitudinal direction to the square, non-directional form of the frame and within the context of the furniture simultaneously accentuates the straight, horizontal top edge in opposition to it. Though extremely minimalist in form, the sconce nevertheless radiates an un- obtrusive aura of refinement and class, thanks to Hoffmann’s skilful use of various colour and surface stimuli and shrewdly premeditated details of design. The coffering of the frame corresponds to the bevelling of the mirror – the matching mitre cut underscores this impression. The candle-holder nozzles are fitted flush and thus invisible in the bowls, causing the candles to rise up spontaneously out of them. This same immediacy applies to the glimmering silver, bowl-shaped candle-holder poised on the matte sheen of its black board, so conjuring up a captivating impression of floating. In con- clusion, the white filling of the pores in the black-stained oak frame acts as a subtle intermediary between the hammered, silver plated surface of the candle bowl and the glossy depth of the gleaming mirror. The flickering light of the candle then gives life to the whole ensemble.
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Pair of sconces