The Austrian House: A Residence and Symbol of Diplomacy


A house is not just a home. It can also be a symbolic representation of its owner. The White House in the United States of America, for example, is known as the symbol of power, whereas the Versailles Palace in France is recognised as the symbol of absolute monarchy and beauty back during the reign of Louis XIV. A house can play an important role when you are working as a foreign ambassador representing a country. This understanding is what Helene Steinhäusl had in mind when she arrived in Indonesia in September 2016.

Helene Steinhäusl came to Indonesia to represent her country as the Austrian Ambassador to Indonesia. The house which she lived in is owned by the Austrian government since 1969. Standing sumptuously in the 1,212 sqm land in Menteng vicinity, the Art Deco style house was built during the Dutch colonialism in the 1940s. The Dutch recognised the style as Nieuwe Bouwen, a functional architecture that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century.

It is a style that is predominantly influenced by Germany’s Bauhaus and France’s Le Corbusier. It creates a clear and logical arrangement of space with openness, sleek facade lines, and a spatial effect on the exterior as its characterisation.

“It’s a rather intimate house. That was my first impression of this two-storey building, which has a terrace facing a beautiful little garden in the back area. There is a nice veranda on the first floor facing the garden, too. It has preserved the traditional character of former similar houses in Jakarta that were built during that era. It immediately gives a very cosy feeling,” said Steinhäusl.

The ground floor of this house is the foremost part that plays that diplomatic role. A petite foyer, decorated with a pair of classic European chairs and a matching small half-moon table, is accentuated with a gilded gold mirror and a large Austrian national flag as a symbol of your arrival to the Austrian House. The house layout continues to a huge living room and reception area, including an informal dining area at the end.

Following the spacious Nieuwe Bowen style, the house is indeed looking larger than what it seems from the facade. On the ground floor alone, we can find the formal dining room that seats up to 24, a guest room with an ensuite bathroom, and a kitchen area. The dining room, which has seen various formal dinners, boasts the modern European sophistication theme featuring beautiful china’s from Augarten Wien, silver candelabra, Persian carpet, and old Iwan Tirta batik painting as piece-de-resistance. The dining room also benefits from direct access to the serene back garden terrace.

The main area represents the diplomacy symbol, hence Steinhäusl designed the ground floor interior design with a subtle eclectic approach. “Austrian residences are normally fully furnished, but this one was not. This urged me to add a personal touch to the interior. I brought some of my paintings, vases, carpets, and other objects for decoration. It is always good to be surrounded by things you like, or which belong to you, especially if you are far away from your home country. Since we live in the 21st century, and also because I like modern art and design, I tried to decorate the house in a modern rather than classical style. During my stay here, I also bought several Indonesian art objects, which I combined with European decorative pieces. Wayang puppet and a framed batik painting are some examples of Indonesian artworks, which create a memory of the wonderful years of my stay in this country.”

The house features some spaces beautifully adorned with some great paintings by Austrian artists from the “Federal Artothek” in Vienna. This institution currently holds over 37,000 works from all areas of fine art. The collection undergoes a permanent expansion as a result of ongoing purchasing activities, which are carried out by the art section of the Federal Chancellery, also to support young artists who are not yet known by the general public. Such collection objects are displayed as decorative elements in rooms and offices of the federal agencies in Austria and abroad.

Following her passion, Steinhäusl chose several modern abstract paintings to be displayed in the house. Highlights including works from Florian Leibetseder, Hugo Wulz, Mario Decleva, Wilhelm Seibetseder, Wernet Otte, Leopold Birstinger, and Julia Welther can be found all around the ground floor area. She felt featuring her country’s great arts would pave the way for doing some cultural diplomacy and awareness about the Austrian artists.

When she first moved to this house, Steinhäusl was aware that the house was in relatively bad shape. According to the embassy’s record, the only renovation was back from 1981 to 1982. It was quite an extensive revamp where they changed the layout of some rooms during the process. “It was necessary to modernise it. We did almost a total renovation, except for the windows, which were already renewed in 2008. We replaced these old windows with Austrian made plastic frame double glass windows, thus allowing better insulation and keeping out the noise from the adjacent street,” Steinhäusl asserted. The refurbishment was extended to the upper floor where the private living quarter featuring for bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and walk-in closets.

The massive improvement took almost a year-long to finish, including a complete refurbish work of the roof and its structure, all-electric and sanitary installations as well as the bathrooms. We give special attention to environmentally sustainable equipment that uses renewable energy systems. For example, the hot water is produced by a solar panel gear on the roof on the backside of the house. Ergo, the Austrian House, has now become a modern house that reflects the “state of the art” technology.

Steinhäusl is a seasoned and respected diplomat. Her time in Jakarta came to an end last August 2020. Indonesia Design magazine had the opportunity to get intimate with her talking about the residence and design on her last week. This article is our homage to her kind friendship with Indonesia. We shall always remember The Austrian House not only as home to the ambassador but also as a residence that symbolises Austria. Bis wir uns wieder sehen, liebe Frau Botschafterin!.

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Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.