The Preservation of Das Dellacher
Visiting the monumental Das Dellacher residence today, it’s hard to imagine the structure that its owner Johannes Handler acquired in 2015 and painstakingly returned to its original glory. A monument to mid-century modernism’s Brutalist design niche, the sturdy home by renowned Austrian-American architect Raimund Abraham had fallen into disrepair. The abandoned home’s good bones were still apparent, but its once vivid exterior was drab and peeling, the original kitchen and an upstairs bathroom were beyond repair, and its signature swimming pool overflowed with green algae and dense moss.
Handler, himself an architect who had grown up near the home in the secluded Austrian region of Burgenland, recalled the house from his youth. He had studied Abraham’s work in architectural school, but his memory of the place—once the private estate of prominent photographer Max Dellacher—was jogged when the home’s designation as a national architectural heritage site was televised. By then, the bold residence had nearly faded into oblivion, standing vacant for 20 years.
Understanding that an architectural masterpiece of national significance was in need of urgent attention, Handler bought the estate and began its restoration. Going a step further, he transformed the property into the cultural institution called Das Dellacher, named for the home’s original owner, with the intention of preserving the home’s legacy. The Das Dellacher association’s mission is to preserve and maintain the home and to promote it and other Brutalist and Modernist properties throughout the Burgenland region.
Since 2017, the association has managed the property, joining groups such as Iconic Houses in order to connect to other architectural legacy museums around the world. It offers educational programs and hosts cultural events to raise awareness of the region’s unique architectural heritage, and the Das Dellacher house has welcomed overnight guests since 2020. It is also available for photo shoots and as a film location.
The home’s original architect, Raimund Abraham, is perhaps best known for his Austrian Cultural Forum building in New York, but he designed this residence for his childhood friend, reportedly collaborating with the photographer on much of its strong, angular design features. Details, including the built-in furnishings and geometric references, are Abraham’s signature contributions, and the home’s original architectural stature and the high quality of its early construction allowed it to be preserved and updated under Handler’s skilled direction.
Sadly, the original kitchen and upstairs bathroom were lost back in the 1990s so Handler remodeled them from scratch, adapting to the materials, shapes and color schemes already present in the house. All of the built-in furniture, however, was intact and needed light restoration, which was also true of the flooring and windows.
Most dramatically, the rectilinear pool required extensive remodeling as an anchor piece to the home’s original design schema. The pool’s placement was key, set beyond the covered back patio Abraham had created via the home’s signature double-sided exterior staircases. With its whitewashed façade and strong, angular lines, Das Dellacher makes a bold statement on a pastoral hillside. Beyond the home, dense woods and wheat fields extend verdantly, insulating the residence and creating a sense of seclusion.
Several of the home’s interior details were given a necessary facelift by Handler, too. Warm wood paneling radiates classic, late-mid-century modern styling, and was polished to its original gleam. Inset windows of varying geometric shapes and sizes were refit and restored. And the residence’s larch wood floors were conserved as well.
While the Das Dellacher association’s guided tours and educational materials offer an excellent overview of this late 1960s masterpiece, the association firmly believes that, because the building was created to be lived in, full immersion in the home through an overnight stay is the best way to appreciate it.
Lovers of design, architectural preservation and the mid-century modern and Brutalist periods have the opportunity to discover the depth of this unique, owner-architect restoration project and fully engage in living an architectural legacy. Begin the journey to Das Dellacher here.
Photographs: copyright Das Dellacher