In the bustling upscale shopping center of Vienna (Wien), Austria’s First District there is a wonderful porcelain shop. Albin Denk is an elegantly fashionable china shop with historical significance located Am Graben and is known as the First porcelain house in the center of the city. To truly understand this beautiful shop, to realize its unique style and unmatched hospitality, its charm and grace you must understand its history, heritage, and ownership. Albin Denk has been owned and operated with pride by the same family of women since 1910. These women have carefully groomed and then passed down their craft for four generations.
The Boyfriend and I wandered into a private function celebrating the “coming out” of the fourth generation when we were visiting Wien in June 2017. Lucky for us we were graciously greeted by the newest owner, Martina Lillie. I explained that I visit the store every time I am in Wien looking for a very specific, hard to find Italian porcelain. Martina was warm and delightful. She certainly never made us feel unwelcome … even though we did crash her party. That same evening, we were also introduced to her mother, who greeted us warmly and invited us to stay and enjoy the refreshments. Although we stayed longer than we had planned, we did arrange to return, intrigued by our delightful interaction with these lovely women.
The store first opened in 1702 at a location close to the one which it occupies today. There is some confusion as to the store’s ownership prior to the deed transfer in 1910. Martina’s mother, Ilsabeth Lillie sat with us two days after our party crashing and answered our many questions. Ilsabeth Lilley inherited the store from her grand mother’s sister (great aunt). Ilsabeth’ mother did work in the store but not very much. So the primary responsibility fell on her great aunt. When it was time to transfer responsibility and ownership, the responsibility fell to Ilsabeth. Although she has passed the responsibility to the next generation, her daughter, she still has a tremendous presence in the store. Ilsabeth Lilley is indeed one of the elegant and charming, yet hard working, women of Vienna.
Margarite showed us a new product line she was experimenting with. She was featuring a locally hand designed, handmade porcelain pottery featured at Albin Denk. It was her opportunity to infuse a little flair to the traditional patterns the store has carried for generations… an example of where fashion and function collide. She showed us the table of dishes she was piloting and explained that the woman who designed these artful dishes had a team of four who work together. Remembering the language barriers, I do hope that all of this is translated completely accurately. But from what Margarite described, it took 10 years to find the style that the designer found satisfactory.
The final print is a textile that she prints on to the pottery. After the textile is printed on (and close up one can see that part of the textile is rather faint and other parts are more bold) she then covers the textile print with porcelain. The surface of the pottery is smooth (porcelain). The bottom or outside of the pottery is a rough, more unfinished edge, giving it a more modern, textured feel and look.
She will do special orders, making the pottery special for each client. Margarite did not yet have any of the serving pieces to show us (the pieces were due to arrive in August). The table is set with multiple manufacturers of dishes. The designer intentionally designed the place settings to mix and match.
These two women and this fine store are the epitome of what Wien is all about. Charm, grace, hospitality, history, fine entertaining. Albin Denk features a little bit of all of it. If you ever find yourself in Wien during business hours looking for that special Viennese treasure, stop in and see Martina and Ilsabeth Lillie and tell them that Paris Goodnight sent you.