Lithuania’s only Amsterdam School building opens to the public as a house museum

Its colourful interiors paint a poignant story of queerness and Jewishness on the eve of WWII

Authentic art deco design and turbulent histories combine at this interwar Kaunas apartment, which has opened as a new house museum in the Lithuanian city.

The Amsterdam School apartment building was designed by local Jewish architect Jokūbas Peras for the owners of a local textile factory, and it housed some of Kaunas’ most prominent interwar citizens. It is the only Amsterdam School building of its kind in Lithuania, built in a modern style closely linked to the art deco and art nouveau movements.

Before its restoration, apartment no.6 was used as a filming location for the hit HBO series Chernobyl, with its post-communist interiors appearing on screen. The third-floor residence has since been lovingly restored by its owners and museum founders, Karolis and Petras Banys, for its new public role.

‘Petras and I bought the apartment in 2017 with the idea of living there,’ explained museum co-founder Karolis Banys. ‘But as soon as we did polychromic and chemic research of its colours and restored the entire apartment to what it was like in 1928, we understood that it’s not only our apartment, it’s the home of Henuchas Pumpianskis.”

Pumpianskis inhabited the apartment from its construction until June 1941, when nearly the entire Jewish population of the country was slaughtered during the Lithuanian Holocaust.

‘We understood that we cannot keep it for ourselves only, but instead, we decided to open it… [to] the public, to show [its original] interior, which is very optimistic, colourful and inspiring.’

The apartment’s two-bedroom layout has high ceilings, curving corner walls and oak parquet. Fluted glass doors and black column radiators, rounded light switches and decorative tiles in shades of deep blue, burnt orange and lavender with metallic trims have been restored. And rooms feature art deco and Amsterdam School furniture sets.

Through the two-hour guided tour, visitors learn about its colours and the mannered sculptures adorning the building’s columned portico, explained through queer theory, as well as the sustainable methods used during its restoration.

Photography: Amsterdam School Museum/Amsterdamo Mokyklos Muziejus

Just as importantly, the museum tells the painful histories of the building’s Jewish inhabitants – many of whom were victims of the Holocaust.

Photographs of the apartment’s interiors during the post-communist era – and those taken during the production of Chernobyl, when it was used as the home of main character Valery Legasov – as also on display.

The opening of the Amsterdam School Museum highlights Kaunas’s trove of art deco and art nouveau buildings, constructed 100 years ago when it took over from Vilnius as the temporary Lithuanian capital. And while it’s the only building of its kind in the Baltic – with a stucco facade, saw-tooth parapet, corner balconies and a columned portico decorated with statues – it is very typical of the Amsterdam School, nicely described by Apollo Magazine as both hyper-modern and curiously mediaeval.

Amsterdam School Museum is at Vytauto pr. 58-6, Kaunas, Lithuania. Tours cost €25, and the museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday at specific times. See the website for details.

Photography: Amsterdam School Museum/Amsterdamo Mokyklos Muziejus

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