Renovation of the Rákóczi-Aspremont mansion
A shortened version of architect Gábor Erhardt’s article in the architect journal Országépítő 2015/2.
The settlement of Mád, a former market town, played an important role in the Tokaj wine region in the past just as it does today. It has an exemplary settlement form, and is a practically perfect illustration of the region’s typical town centre arrangement known as Kosice-type. Exceedingly highly regarded vineyards are set around the town, and its architectural heritage is among the most precious in the wine region and, thanks to conscious brand building, several wineries have become nationally famous. One of these, Barta Winery, is based in the Rákóczi−Aspremont mansion in the upper third of the main street – next to the former internationally famous rabbi school and synagogue.
View of Mád 2007 Photo: Zoltán Bakos
Almost all the main roads in the Tokaj wine region bear the family name Rákóczi (after a powerful ruling family, Ed.) as do numerous cellars and mansions. Often the “only” basis for the name is that the place in question did belong to the enormous Rákóczi estates in the 17th century. However, over time it has become clear that for numerous buildings were actually in ruins at that time, not in use or at least no Rákóczi ever actually stepped foot inside.
This is not however the case in the Rákóczi-Aspremont mansion. Although the earliest authenticated reference dates from an inventory of assets in 1755, based on several authentic records we can surmise that Ferenc Rákóczi II did visit Mád on several occasions and he would have stayed in this house when he did. The building would have looked a little different and was probably only one storey.
The written reference dated 1755 and the name are slightly misleading as Ferenc Rákóczi II’s sister Julianna and her Lothringian husband count Ferdinánd Aspremont probably had little to do with the building other than giving the name. The marriage was concluded in 1691 – without the knowledge of the Viennese court – of Julianna to the at the time (due to military failures) out-of-favour Lieutenant General Ferdinánd whose alliance with France and enormous fortune were no doubt attractive to the aristocratic family. Although the husband lived in Reckheim castle until his death in 1708 and the wife in Vienna, they had seven children and the family was later to own large estates in the wine region. Little was written about their children, and nothing as to whether they built in Mád.
Based on the design and ground plan of the mansion – along with the written references mentioned above – it seems likely that originally there was an early one-storey building of two parts. A classic three-part residence and an agricultural building. One of the key proofs for this presumption is the stove remnant found behind the 20th-century csikótűzhely stove that was unfortunately destroyed in the construction. It is clear that the chimney that can be seen today was added later.
It is probable that the current form of the two-storey building developed during the period of the family after whom it was named. The part between the two buildings could have been a covered passage that protruded slightly as a central porch. At the time there could have been a wooden structure, open stairs leading to the first floor from the side facing the courtyard. The first internal stairs were probably constructed sometime in the late-18th, early 19th century and the central porch slightly emphasised. The stone-frame Baroque windows here were moved to replace the first-floor side door on the back, courtyard side.
Significant changes were made in the early 20th century that strongly put their mark onto the house which, as was the case in other houses in the area, brought both fortunate and tragic results. Tragic because most of the Baroque façades were destroyed. In this case only the moved windows mentioned above remained of the original street-front façade. But fortunate as these more modern structures were more likely to survive the decades of neglect during communism and give greater comfort during present-day renovations (for example the box-type windows instead of the one-layer Baroque structures).
Galéria: Archív photos © Barta Winery
In the decades prior to the change in ownership around the time of the change in political system a local family lived in the house who moved from one room to another according to the seasons. They could not really afford renovations (fortunately) so the relatively original state survived until the last days of communism. The new owner, an Austrian man, immediately bought three plots next to one another and started his operations here with the demolition of the central stone building. The sale of the stone probably covered the entire original purchase price. The “gentleman’s” significant legacy: stone structures and other items collected from nearby abandoned buildings can still be seen in the shed.
The current owners of the building, the Barta family, saved and replanted one of – if not – the most valuable vineyards in the Mád basin, the Király-dűlő (Old King). Its name and the dramatic form of the stone terraces suggest that this was no ordinary vineyard, and a worthy winery building was needed to complement the land. Prior to the purchase of the mansion we looked at many properties until we arrived at the final conclusion that there are many beautiful buildings in Mád, but compared to the Rákóczi mansion none appeared suitable. The only problem was posed by the owner who was only willing to part with the building and the two other properties after three years of persuading and “trickery”.
Gallery: Driving out the Austrian forces 2009. Photo: Bakos Zoltán
The survey and basic plans were started in March 2009 by architects Gábor Erhardt and Ferenc Salamin. Klára Mentéyni and Juan Cabello carried out the necessary archaeological and wall inspections for the plans, Orsolya Csűrös the painting restoration checks. Renovation of the roof was first due to the poor condition and to see the position of the heritage authority which issued permission for the work. In 2009 the new front porch was completed along with the replacement with aged “beaver tail” tiles.
The next phase was the construction of the winery as the building had to be ready in time to receive the grapes from the vines which had meanwhile started producing in the Old King vineyard. The development of the winery was greatly assisted by the fact that the next door plot was empty. Thus the delivery of the grapes was without problems and did not disturb the internal life of the mansion. The fermentation and maturing room of the winery was set in the remaining part of the side building behind the mansion. The part nearer the mansion which had been demolished by the previous owner was rebuilt. The area between the two parts of the building is covered, but the sides of the (processing) area can be completely opened. A sunken storage area for finished wines is linked to the winery. Although the winery has a beautiful dry cellar – with an upper entrance higher in the overgrown garden –, the underground vaulted cellar is not regarded as a value in modern winemaking in stark contrast to earlier traditions. The esteemed sweet wines that are sensitive due to their sugar content are created and stored under strictly controlled conditions in the highest cleanliness. Only with super-human efforts would this be possible in the organically developed underground cellars.
After the completion of the winery, the renovation of the ground floor of the mansion began. Here the former agricultural places were transformed into a tasting room, the former hall and kitchen to the wine shop, and the street-front rooms to offices. On the side facing the garden is a smaller tasting room and semi-professional kitchen.
Gallery: Renovated first floor 2011. Photos: Zoltán Bakos
All the doors and windows in the building were renewed at the same time as the ground-floor renovation. The Baroque doors and windows were restored by Balázs Fabók and his colleagues. Extreme efforts were needed to design new structures to replace the old narrow doors and windows as the modern insulating structures are made with much wider cross-sections than the old ones. Surprisingly the solution was not handmade but an absolutely modern structure whose wings have no frame on the external side. Thus the external appearance of the former fixed central structure could be achieved with almost a hairsbreadth precision.
Gallery: The mansion in spring 2016. Photos: Ferenc Dancsecs
The last phase before the renovation of the first floor was transformation of the neighbouring building – a classic peasant’s house – into a guesthouse, typical rural accommodation that is clearly necessary for a winery that welcomes guests. The house has a veranda the length of the building and three bedrooms with a small kitchen and a communal space that is linked to a covered terrace. The barn behind was filled to the brim by the previous owner with a mass of carved stones and other interesting objects.
The final phase of the renovation started in early 2015 when the final function of the first floor was achieved. Previous years of sales and wine critics’ opinions convinced the owner to plan a company producing wines for the world market with the help of Attila Homonna, his Erdőbénye winemaker. And thus the concept developed to position the wines in the premium category, with the brand including the King vineyard and the Rákóczi-Aspremont mansion that would thus be capable of supporting a premium accommodation that, with all its unique aspects, would stand out among the similar quality services in the wine region. Three two-room apartments were created that also have a veranda overlooking the garden, a salon with a view of the street and a cigar room.
Gallery: renovated first floor, apartments 2016 Photos: Ferenc Dancsecs
The atmosphere of the first floor is defined by the relatively uniform ceiling; most of the rooms have the same vault style as on the ground floor. Only the flat ceiling of two rooms differ and the vault in the salon upstairs. Research revealed valuable paintings upstairs only, the restoration of which (over and above heritage dogma) was made more difficult due to the lack of responsibility of the previous owner. The paintings had been uncovered by untrained workers, giving a worthless result in terms of heritage as several layers were exposed at once. However, the mixed and old appearance attracted the interest of most visitors, and thus the decision was taken to preserve fragments of the ceiling painting of some of the upstairs rooms. The result is thanks to the expertise of Klára Nemessányi and Péter Boromisza. Such eventualities perfectly suit the atmosphere of a rural mansion – modern architecture reaches ever more frequently for this tool.
Gallery: Spring 2016. Photos: Ferenc Dancsecs
Over and above the similar ceilings, the uniformity of the upstairs is given by the wide wooden-plank floors throughout that are only nailed in the salon where there is parquet flooring – one hundred years old at that. The heating that survived is two not overly precious tile stoves, both around one hundred years old, that were reconstructed. In addition, in the main rooms are the new usable repro stoves, the work of Judit Szebéyni. The main consideration in the choice of furnishings was to create an overarching atmosphere. The furniture, which is made in one style, does not bring new variety into the interior spaces that are already filled with interest. The work was by Kéttemplom Galéria which also made the superb furniture in the wine shop. Their work (right down to the choice of the rugs and textiles) was assisted by art historian Rita Igaz.
Gallery: Before-after. Photos: 2013 Attila Lóránt, 2015 Zsolt Szentirmai