The Sonneveld House

The Sonneveld House Recipe

Amsterdam in February. There is nothing quite like it. Rain, mud, freezing temperatures, and winds that have the unique ability to slice through twelve layers of clothes. Doesn't seem to phase the Dutch a bit. In fact umbrellas don't even seem that popular here. Wipe the puddle off your bike seat, hop on, and suck it up.

Yesterday we got an early start. We hopped the train to Rotterdam which coasted breezily through the Dutch countryside for 45 minutes or so and then dropped us off in central Rotterdam. We had a full day of museums, exploring, and umbrellas being blown inside-out. Just next door to the Netherlands Architecture Institute we stumbled on a real gem (and the highlight of the day for me) - the Sonneveld House.

Library

The Sonneveld House was built in 1933 by architect Leen van der Vlugt (Brinkman & van der Vlugt). When you walk through the museums in Rotterdam you see examples of Van Nelle packaging and products around. Here's how it all ties together - Van der Vlugt also built the Van Nelle coffee, tea, and tobacco company - Sonneveld was one of the directors and commissioned this house.

Nook inside the kitchen

If you are interested in seeing what Dutch modern living was like circa 1933, this is one of the best surviving examples. From the front yard the house doesn't have a whole lot of curbside appeal, but as you enter the front door, your entire perception changes. The house is built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style, also known as New Realism or Functionalism - basic shapes and traditional forms were in, over the top ornamentation and monumentality, out. Airy rooms batched in light branch off the central hallways.

Young French family caught in the bathroom mirror

It is interesting to see how the modern building techniques of the time were put into practice in a residential Dutch setting. Steel columns, and the abscense of load bearing walls allowed for the stunning sweeping swaths of glass windows. I remember being a kid and walking through one of the old Eichler houses on the Bay Area peninsula. I loved the big windows and the natural flow between indoor and outdoor spaces. The Sonneveld house is similar in spirit. Many of the rooms open up onto the garden or various balconies - the outdoor becomes a natural extension of the overall living space. Not really practical in say, mid-February, but I appreciate the sentiment all the same. (Sidenote: I think I read somewhere that Harold McGee lives in a restored Eichler on the peninsula.)

Master bedroom, two phones

This house came as a full package. The architect also designed the interior and furnishings. Legend has it that the Sonnevelds moved in and left all of their previous furnishings behind - Persian rugs and all. They chose the tubular steel furniture you see in the photographs because - well, you can imagine how bad old heavy wood furniture would look. The furniture they chose is perfect - light, open, and modern - complimenting the design of the structure and treating the vision for the house as a whole.

Corkscrew staircase

One of the things you notice as you explore the house is the phones. There are everywhere. Some rooms have two. When you run the tally, there were twelve phones in the Sonneveld House - two outside, and then ten house phones. Think of these phones as the plasma screens of the time. Equal part status symbol and modern convenience.

Model of the Sonneveld House

I'm off to my first Amsterdam farmer's market. Will try to post more highlights soon.

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