Home In A Police Station

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Nives Widauer, a visual artist, has an apartment in one of the safest buildings in Vienna — a police station. “I don’t have to lock the doors,” Ms. Widauer, 45, said. However the building, a pale brick 19th-century mansion with tall windows, has a troubled history.

In World War II, it was seized from its Jewish owners by the Nazis. When the house was returned to the rightful owners after the war, they no longer wanted to live in Austria. The house remains in the family — the current owners are the granddaughter and grandson of the couple who left Europe — but the building is leased by the state. One apartment (Ms. Widauer’s) is set aside as a residence; the rest is rented to the police department.

After years of changing the decor and function of the 2,700-square-foot apartment’s eight rooms, Ms. Widauer decided it was time to give the space a real face-lift. Enlisting the help of fellow artists and friends to keep the costs down, she spent about five months refinishing the original herringbone wood floors, renovating the bathroom and kitchen, and replacing old insulation and pipes.

The floors are not perfect now, but you cannot imagine how they looked. Ms. Widauer gave an architect several pieces of her artwork in exchange for creating the steel-framed, insulated door that closes off the living room from the dining area, which is in a glass-walled conservatory and gets very cold during the winter.

Sometimes people ask her what it’s like living with the police, Ms. Widauer said. She tells them it has been anything but difficult: she has a good relationship with the officers, though she doesn’t see them often.

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