One whole section of Riga, just outside the old town, is a wealth of art nouveau buildings. One the corner of Alberta Street and Strēlnieku Street is one whose ground floor is now a museum, a preserved art nouveau flat, an astonishing, chic, imaginative, fabulous place.
Just walking into the building is a treat, with an exceptional stairwell which causes all visitors to stop and gasp. Ornamental ceiling paintings adorn it, their provenance unknown but possibly the work of Latvian artist Janis Rozentāls.
Inside the apartment you get a flavour for what early twentieth century life was like in this stylish city. Built by the Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkēns (1859 - 1928) in 1903, he lived there himself until 1907.
The entrance takes you first to the sitting room. This was a place to receive guests, show off and take tea. Blue walls characterise the flat in general, and have been restored here. An ornate bay window with wooden décor pushes out onto the street.
Even ceilings in the flat are worth looking at. In the sitting room, their are stucco, with daisy blossoms and ornamental paintings. Next door in the dining room, the painted ceiling is even more elaborate.
One large room, possibly initially the architect's bedroom, has been turned into an exhibition hall for art nouveau objects. It is a shame to lose the realism of the living space in some ways, but the collection is fascinating. There is still another bedroom on show.
The kitchen and bathroom are more prosaic, but still well-set out, giving you a clear sense of contemporary domestic arrangements. Even here the art nouveau influence is felt, with faux tiles painted onto the walls.
One room is, of course, the entrance and small shop, where contemporarily dressed attendants are happy to serve you in English. Next door is a small room (the office) where they show a film about the art nouveau movement in Riga. It's not long, and does help to put the building in its context. As you walk out and back to the Old Town, you will stop and look afresh at all the buildings around you.
Entry itself is a minor challenge. The museum is not well-marked, and because it is part of a residential building, what you're faced with is a series of doorbells, one of which leads to the museum and will alert people to let you in. Access is from Strēlnieku Street, so don't look for it on Alberta Street as its address might suggest. Being ground floor, once you have managed an initial few steps, the museum is easily accessible.