Expat Kiwi’s technicolor Amsterdam loft apartment is a sorbet surprise
For Amsterdam-based Kiwi writer Tom Atkins and his Dutch management consultant partner Björn ‘t Hart, turning a commercial loft into living space was less about redesigning the layout than about merging two cultures.
“I’m already rooted in my homeland, but Tom is a world away from New Zealand,” says Björn. “ For me it was important that he felt at home and that he belonged to these four walls, being so far from his roots. ”
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Tom was raised in South Auckland by a Maori grandmother and a Dutch grandfather in a 1950s four-bedroom brick bungalow which he describes as a ‘retro paradise’: black velvet paintings of ‘Indonesia, frayed shag rugs from the 1970s, mountains of 12-inch records and tons of barware and junk.
He cherished Sundays watching Doris Day movies with his grandparents dozing by the fireplace after a cooler. “The set design for films like Pillow Talk and Funny Face definitely feeds my love for anything colorful, kitsch and technicolor. “
The couple met in 2009 while Tom was on a Master’s exchange program, himself a sort of pilgrimage to the old country. “Over the years, I became close to a Dutch aunt who is a retired artist, and wanted to know more about her life,” says Tom.
Once Tom met Björn, this pilgrimage became a move. They moved to the Netherlands while Björn was finishing his doctorate, before settling in Amsterdam, by chance just a five-minute walk from where Tom’s grandfather grew up.
Purchased after an exhaustive search of a booming real estate market, they found an apartment that was originally built as commercial space. They realized that just as they were trying to merge cultures as a couple, the apartment design also needed a counterpoint to the minimalist aesthetic of a local architect they had hired to help them redesign. space.
They then enlisted the help of Argentinian / Australian designer duo Chechi Valentine and Sam Ellinson at Studio 34 South, who gave the project a more international touch.
“Studio 34 South helped us create a cohesive pastel palette without the ‘shock’ you sometimes get from seeing too many primary colors in one spot, as well as plenty of display space for our treasures,” says Tom. This palette gave the apartment a calming but still fun vibe, and a bit of an escape from the perpetually dark and gray days.
“We mixed vintage art and collectibles, like this black velvet painting of a Maori girl from the 1960s that I found on a trip to the United States, with more recent pieces; like a Brighton collage [UK] artist Maria Rivans and a beautiful tapa cloth piece by Tui Emma Gillies, a Tongan / Kiwi artist who is a friend of my elementary school years. These pieces and pieces really give me a sense of warmth from a bygone era that I associate with home.
Björn is from the Calvinist north of the Netherlands. He sees less of it adding features than what you already have, what you can afford and if it does the job. His influence was felt in the streamlining of previous versions of the kitchen, adding wood trim and cream tiles to bring a sense of calm to the space.
Her need for space of peace and contemplation is most noticeable in the bathroom, with deeper colors and minimal features that give it a more masculine feel, with an explosive James Roper print and a delicate rim that runs throughout the room. piece as only embellishments.
When creating the kitchen, Björn and Tom turned to a hobby they love and share: cooking. While Covid-19 put an 18-month-old kibosh on dinners, it gave Tom plenty of time to practice sweating onions for a perfect bhuna chicken and baking cookies for the neighbors. For Björn, the open worktop provides the perfect surface for spreading the sugar loaf, a Frisian delight.
TV screens are completely absent from the front of the apartment to keep the focus on conversation and interaction. The only “tech” in their lounge bar is a restored 1969 Murphy Spectra Futura radio, designed by Raymond Loewy. “It’s a really nice space to meet up with friends over a daiquiri or just chat about our days to the sound of Dusty Springfield. »At the back, there is a space dedicated to nights with Doris on the big screen.
Björn and Tom envision a life shared between the Netherlands and New Zealand. “The greatest gift ever would be to have a raspberry milkshake with my grandmother again after two and a half years away and hear everything else at home. We would also love to restore a period house in New Zealand one of these days and try our hand at a proper and flawless renovation, ”says Tom.
Chances are they probably wouldn’t change a thing.
Q&A with Tom Atkins
What is it like to live in Dutch houses: Most Dutch people live in compact spaces, so functionality is key. They also like the symmetry – I can’t believe walking past 100 identical houses with the same two houseplants in the window.
Why I love the Netherlands: We are at the heart of Europe, so everything is on our doorstep. Weekends in Paris, Berlin and London are quite achievable with a short train ride and their flea markets are second to none!
What I like about Dutch culture: The Dutch can be very engaging conversation partners, even in their second language, so you never feel like you can’t express an opinion while having a positive interaction. People take the important things seriously but really let go when it’s time to have fun.
Best renovation tips: If we had to do things over again, we would choose a knowledgeable interior designer over an architect for advice. You get style and discounts on finishes, and they can always consult a structural architect if needed.
What I miss most about New Zealand: My heart breaks every time I say goodbye to my family, friends and the earth. But whenever I’m home I go to Thames Market without fail. It’s a great snapshot of Kiwi society – kind, generous, and warm.
Best sources of Dutch design: Fest Amsterdam is super cool – simple pieces made in a rainbow of colors. Eichholtz is a luxury furniture retailer that ships worldwide, as is Marcel Wanders’ Moooi design store. You also can’t beat the monthly IJ-Hallen flea market for everything, including the kitchen sink.