High-concept furniture and design shops are not normally places that encourage setting down your coffee cup, propping up your feet and lolling around with a newspaper. But just a block up from Vienna's popular Museumsquartier, Das M? (furniture in German) does exactly that and serves the coffee, too.
Created with the hope of both making advanced design less intimidating and bringing young Austrian designers to a wider audience, Das M? opened in 1998 as a hybrid furniture store-cafe with a small kitchen and full bar. The result is both bizarre and engaging; an eclectically furnished kaffeehaus where every few feet there are wildly different contrasting tables and chairs, lighting plans and wallpaper prints.
Though nothing is pristine, nearly everything visible is for sale. With huge windows and rough, almost dirty, dark wood floors, the feel is a bit like a Brooklyn loft party. Every few months the entire floor displays a fresh batch of furniture and tabletop accessories. A recent display included a wooden circular table with a removable Saturn-like ring for added diners, at 1,180 euros (about $1,535 at $1.30 to the euro), and a set of three world-map lamps made of plastic, glass and tissue, lighted from within and hung by steel cables, for about 300 euros.
''You can sit and test the furniture as often as you like without being forced to buy it,'' said Karin Widhalm, a spokeswoman for Das M?, noting that there aren't sales people hovering about. Instead, a panel on an inside wall is hung with small rectangular tear sheets with details about the products. There are a handful of small items for sale in lower price ranges for shallower pocketbooks as well. Self-adhesive wallpaper borders, for example, with panoramic photographs of Berlin or the Alps that run about 160 inches around the top of a wall, are 16 euros.
Das M? sent out its first catalog last year and has expanded beyond Austrians to include designers from much of Europe. But Das M? is still a relatively small, hands-on operation: all furniture can be made to a client's specifications. Next month, it will open a ''normal'' shop a short walk away on Gumpendorfer Strasse, where it will display beds and other cushioned items that wouldn't hold up well in a cafe. The hope is that the new store will draw older shoppers who may feel uncomfortable among the under-30's who frequent Das M?.