Dutch interiors


The exterior of the Willet-Holthuysen home, which has an extra-wide facade and a servants’ entrance below

The Dutch, as you may know, are famous for their interiors.  And as one Dutch docent noted, for one of the world’s tallest nationalities, they live in some of the smallest spaces of any country (even the houses of the rich aren’t so large as elsewhere).  So I suppose they make every bit count.

I visited several different house museums while in Amsterdam.  One, the Willet-Holthuysen home, was decorated according to the style of its Victorian owners, while another, the 17th C. Geelvinck-Hinlopen home, was eclectic but included original elements.  And sometimes I’d just run into a viewable kitchen in a museum that wasn’t a house museum at all.

The pattern of most of these houses was that of an upper class family. They were usually on the Herengracht, which means something like Canal of the Aristocracy (or at least merchants). Usually Dutch houses were quite narrow, two or three windows across and four stories high, but the rich merchants sometimes bought two lots, affording a door and two windows (one room each) on either side.

A common layout included a library on the right side of the entrance, a parlor on the left, and a dining room in the back. Sometimes the dining room would have a low ceiling, which allowed for a sort of mezzanine-level linen and china pantry above. In the back of the house, overlooking the garden, was a sunroom or conservatory. The family’s bedrooms were upstairs, and the female servants slept in the attic.  Downstairs there was a servant’s entrance below the front steps, which led to pantries, male servant’s quarters, and the kitchen. Two of the houses I saw also had a carriage house behind the garden, facing the opposite block, but that was only for the richest people.

Below are some examples of the rooms in the family quarters.  Then scroll down for more explanation:

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Libraries and parlors

Bottom two photos: 1) A typical style of 17th C. curio cabinet.  The inserts were sometimes made of ebony, and sometimes merely painted black.  2) What do you know?  A painting by Bouguereau (top)!

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Dining rooms

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Over the course of the week, I realized that while sometimes the formal rooms felt a bit stuffy, I always liked the kitchens, which were intended only for servants to use. They too had their common features: Tiles on walls and floors, brass fixtures hanging from pegs or the ceiling, assorted earthenware jugs, windows (often facing the back) over wooden cabinets, a stone sink in the corner, built-in cabinets to hold china, a large table in the center of the room,  some kind of large stove/oven combination (open fireplace or wood stove) along one of the walls. One house had a tap built into the stove to take advantage of the heat for hot water, and another had a small room between the kitchen and the garden outside for messy jobs such as cleaning fish.  I’d also frequently see a small marble sink built into the wall of the servants’ hallway. One home had a shed by the back door for powdered wigs!

Below are some, but not all, of the kitchens I observed over the course of the week. The one at the bottom you may recognize from the last post. It’s Rembrandt’s kitchen.

And below the kitchens, there are two last photos and comments.

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And finally, I saw some magnificent examples of Dutch dollhouses as well. They often included perfectly detailed miniature tea services, books, and linen cabinets.  Some were scaled-down versions of their owners’ houses. Here is a small sample, including an elegant home, some kitchen implements, and a more modest home.


Up next:  A different kind of house museum altogether!


5 thoughts on “Dutch interiors

  1. So very intriguing, Laura! All of the rooms are lovely, but my favorite photos are of the kitchen. It looks so warm and inviting–I think it’s a combination of the rich colors, low ceiling, and all the unique items scattered about the room that make it so. I am enjoying reading about your travels!

    1. Thanks, Silvana! Those kitchens really do look like you could do some work in them, don’t they? And yes, all the rich textures and colors add to the effect. I’m glad you are enjoying them too.

  2. Yes, the kitchens are most inviting. They are not merely utilitarian – there’s plenty of rich and warm artistic detail – but neither do they overwhelm me with what seems the busy lavishness of the formal rooms. I bet they were also warmer in actual temperature – what do you think?

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