Alpine tradition and dolce vita
© Julius Hirtzberger

Alpine tradition and dolce vita

Interview with Birgit Elsensohn and Marlène Barth-Elsensohn

With passion and much sensitivity, hostess Marlène Barth-Elsensohn and architect Birgit Elsensohn have turned the historic family property into an aesthetic hideaway that brings a touch of Tuscany to Lech!

Hotel Schwarzwand, a former bed and breakfast, is located right in the middle of Lech’s history centre, surrounded by a backdrop of impressive mountains. An alpine gem with lots of history which, over the course of the past year, was quietly turned into one of the most desirable addresses for design fans: this laid-back hideaway is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy, its Tuscan charm is visible in every detail – from furniture to wall design. The mother-daughter team Birgit Elsensohn and Marlène Barth-Elsensohn is behind this transformation into a stylish, yet down-to-earth retreat for pleasure-seekers with a sense for aesthetic interiors. Ever since they have taken over, the house has become a place-to-be that is characterized by their idea of elegant, Italian ease, and that turns even the smallest timeout into the best of quality times. In their interview they told us more about dolce vita, tradition, and good design.

L.L. / How much Florence and how much Lech is there in Hotel Schwarzwand?

B.E. / The hotel is located right at the centre of Lech, a literal stone’s throw from the main street. And we are so lucky to be surrounded by this amazing mountainous backdrop. So, for me, it was clear from the start that this special view, both of and from the house, must be at the focus, and that architecture can only ever be the framework for it: large panoramic windows in the new lounge bar and the entrance area, and large window fronts in the rooms and suites that allow for an uninhibited view of the surrounding mountains; terraces and balconies also face that direction. For the interior I made a point of choosing the kind of style that is restrained and leaves room for the alpine backdrop by remaining sensitive and unpretentious, while still reflecting my own path and my experiences in Italy.

© Julius Hirtzberger
„Hardly anything gives me more pleasure than helping our guests have the most unique stay they can possibly have.“
Birgit Elsensohn
© Julius Hirtzberger

L.L. / What is the hotel’s most unusual feature? And what was most important to you?

B.E. / I think that it really is this light, Italian flair that’s most special about the hotel. Because of the selection and combination of certain materials in does stand out in the alpine, Austrian surroundings. At the same time, however, it was by no means my intention to create an “Italian hotel”. It’s more a result of my habits and experiences after 25 years as an architect in Florence that have led to my natural style language, which you can now see here at Schwarzwand.

L.L. /
Do you have a favourite spot in the hotel, one that reflects the house’s philosophy like no other?

M.B. / My absolute favourite spot in the hotel is our lounge bar. Especially in the evenings, when family and guests get together, that’s when I enjoy the quiet moments here most. The cosy sitting areas make it the perfect place for making new acquaintances, for reflecting on an action-filled day, and getting ready for dinner while sipping an excellent aperitivo.

Schwarzwand Lech Julius Hirtzberger B0022972

© Julius Hirtzberger
„Good design doesn’t have to guarantee a good space or a good feel in a space.“
Birgit Elsensohn

Schwarzwand Lech Julius Hirtzberger B0022859

© Julius Hirtzberger

L.L. / Hand-picked and tailor-made furniture, natural rock, warm wood- and grey tones: what emotions are you looking to convey with your design and architecture?

B.E. / What was most important to me, was that our philosophy would be something you can sense in the newly designed rooms. Aspects you can’t just see but also feel and smell in the carefully chosen furnishings. This way every guest can have their own individual exchange with the rooms that will be influenced by their own personal experiences and emotions.

L.L. /
How would you summarise you design philosophy?

B.E. / Good design doesn’t have to guarantee a good space or a good feel in a space. Only that which manages to have a lasting effect on us is really good.

Schwarzwand Lech Julius Hirtzberger B0023072

© Julius Hirtzberger
„Architecture and design form the framework for what can happen on the inside, they’re the hardware, if you will.“
Birgit Elsensohn

Schwarzwand Lech Julius Hirtzberger B0023138

© Julius Hirtzberger

L.L. / What would you say is the role that architecture and design play in a hotel’s success?

B.E. / I would say that depends on the context a hotel defines itself in. Architecture and design form the framework for what can happen on the inside, they’re the hardware, if you will. However, if all that is not filled with emotion and passion, there’s nothing the best design and the most beautiful architecture can do.

L.L. / Speaking of passion: how do you convey hospitality in such a unique space?

M.B. / I’ve always been a passionate host, it’s something I noticed even while I was still studying in Florence. And that most beautiful part about it is that hospitality is something that can just rest inside you. Hardly anything gives me more pleasure than helping our guests have the most unique stay they can possibly have. And having special surroundings that are characterised both, by their originality and their modernity, make this so much easier.


Fondue or bistecca alla fiorentina?
B.E. / Neither! I prefer fagioli zolfini with olive oil from my own olive grove in the hills over Florence.

For me, architecture and design are …
B.E. / ... part of the big picture.

Our house’s philosophy in three words …
B.E. / ... lightness, poetry, unobtrusiveness.

I find inspiration for new ideas …
B.E. / … in the exact observation of meaningful as well as unassuming things in my closer and wider surroundings.

My day begins…and ends with …
B.E. / … ideally it begins with music and ends with music. What’s exciting is what happens in between.

Good design is …
B.E. / ... timeless, calm, and discreet.

L.L. / Aside from Hotel Schwarzwand, the bed and breakfast Pension Sandbur, the Walserhaus, also belongs to your family. What special design concept can guests look forward to here?

B.E. / Sandbur is the oldest, mostly well-conserved Walser-house in Lech. At the moment, we are in the process of analysing the entire building complex, meaning the living quarters and the outbuildings, in order to really understand its history. When that’s done, we plan on unearthing the historic structure, in order to then return it to its original state and renovate it. That means that the rooms and the building services will be designed in a way that they will meet today’s standards while conserving their unique, historic spirit. In that sense the Sandbur is supposed to be more of a step back into its own past than a modern version of itself.

L.L. / Your family is one of the oldest on Tannberg. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind for the following generations?

B.E. / I think that nowadays it is hard to make plans for the generations to come. What I can share, however, is a way of understanding and appreciating history so that it can be understood and passed on over many years.

© Julius Hirtzberger
„The Sandbur is supposed to be more of a step back into its own past than a modern version of itself.“
Birgit Elsensohn
Inside story

Hotel Schwarzwand was founded during the times of great economic and touristic upturn of the 1960s. It was this pioneering spirit of growing prosperity and more mundane ways that motivated Walter and Helga Elsensohn to open their bed and breakfast in 1965, which, over the course of the following decades, was slowly turned into a four-star hotel. Today their daughter Birgit Elsensohn, who studied architecture and preservation of historic monuments in Florence, continues the house’s story. Together with her daughter, Marlène Barth-Elsensohn, she has turned the Schwarzwand into an exclusive haven for all those with a sense for aesthetics and enjoyment; a space of poetic elegance where Italian joie de vivre meets the inimitable values of alpine hospitality.

Share Article

Lech & Zürs


To the Guide

Follow Us Facebook Instagram

La Loupe Award La Loupe Award La Loupe Award La Loupe Award