Ursula and Marek Drasny, the owners of a 500-year-old house in Hall in Tirol have turned a costly burden into a moneymaking business by opening up to overnight guests. What is involved when you convert your historic house into a boutique hotel? Does it take courage or ingenuousness to reach for dreams?
Well, a surgical scalpel has been involved in this specific renovation project. Such are the payoffs of restoration. … Marek Drasny has been toiling for two years—scratching and scraping with surgical scalpels to restore the walls by hand, inch by inch. He has also been using another tool— a handheld jackhammer to demolish parts of the building. It takes a pretty hefty tool to produce 15 tons of builders’ rubble, after all.
Built into the medieval town wall of Hall, the once famous salt trading town east of Tirol’s capital Innsbruck, the kontor building has been around for more than 500 years, but you’d never know it just by sitting inside at the bright and contemporary breakfast room. With its modern interiors and stylish pastel-coloured designer chairs, this conceptual boutique hotel offers something surprisingly fresh in one of Hall’s oldest icons. Opened in December 2018, kontor tips its hat to its nostalgic past through preservation and revitalization – anchored by original Baroque stuccoed ceilings and hardwood floors. Ursula Jud-Drasny serves coffee. 16-month-old Theo scurries about from table to table and grabs a piece of cake, which his Mum baked for the hotel guests. The Drasnys tell me more about the burden of restoring a historic house—which happened to be incidentally funny, looking back on it, at least.
“This building stands upright only because it is used to do so.”
Ursula, born in 1988 and raised in Hall has a university degree in mathematics. Marek, 31, was born in the Czech Republic but grew up on the French island of Corsica. This is where they met and spent a few years together. The Tirol-native and the Czech Corse share more than just love for each other — they also share a passion for old houses. “We often visited rotting buildings in Corsica and imagined what to do with them. I said: Let’s buy it and convert it into a bed and breakfast!” tells Ursula. Marek answered: “You are completely crazy!”
When the Drasnys discovered the structure on the edge of Hall’s old town district during a Christmas vacation with Ursula’s parents in 2014, it had fallen into disrepair. The building first appeared in historical documents in 1450 and for over 500 years it housed a variety of businesses. What was once a warehouse was transformed into a stylish haven for the city’s guests. Its name pays homage to its past as a foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League (‘Kontor’). After being incompetently repaired and restored periodically over time, the building was in desperate need of renovation. Above all, it had suffered significant structural deterioration. Beams were cut, ceilings were in danger of collapsing and oriels were in danger of falling. Ursula cites the structural engineer: “This building stands upright only because it is used to do so.”
Of Courage, Ingenuousness and Rational Decision Making
Does it take courage or ingenuousness to convert a rotting building into a high end boutique hotel? Marek says: “It requires lots of guts and commitment. This is not the time for being ingenuous.” That is the rational part. Ursula to the contrary says: “I think I was completely naive. I never thought we wouldn’t make it. Four times the amount of the purchase went into renovation and furnishings, but Marek worked so hard that we saved a lot of money at the same time.”
In addition to courage and ingenuousness, the necessary heart for such an ambitious task comes from personal commitment and perseverance. Plus, you have to stay flexible to cope with unpredicted challenges: The original idea of opening a bed and breakfast was soon abandoned. Instead, they took that step of becoming a conceptual boutique hotel. When there was not enough money to restore seven rooms, they did only five. The preservation maintained the historic nature of the building, so no two guest rooms are alike. “Each room, however, exudes character and has a soul and a story,” explains Marek.
Whenever they are able to generate funds for further refurbishment, they will restore the two remaining rooms on the third floor. And a 50 square meter vault on the ground floor practically begs to be converted into a stylish bar. This will take some time, however, but it will certainly add to the allure of this tastefully decorated conceptual boutique hotel.
Talking of courage and ingenuousness: During their two-year restoration and renovation project, Ursula gave birth to their son Theo. “He is the result of a rational decision making process,” laughs Ursula. “We knew that once we opened the hotel, I wouldn’t be able to be absent for months. It was clear that I had to work fulltime, as there would be no money left for staff in the beginning. And Marek is by no means a born hotelier.” With a cheery humility, Marek simply adds: “I love my walls!” And he continues to work on them: He is now restoring the walls on the third floor by hand, but without the hard pressure of their previous two-year restoration project. Marek enjoys spending time with his little son while Ursula looks after the hotel guests. The clientele is mainly business travelers during the week, but during weekends and holidays, the focus shifts more to tourist travelers who want to embrace local history at this stylish upscale hotel.