To make a long story short, we bought the land and the house and sold the house again without the land. The nice thing about this was, that we could kind of select our own future neighbours. And they are great! It is a couple with baby twins. She has the same name as me and her daughter, one of the twins, has the same name as my sister’s daughter. Not that it matters a bit but still, it is a nice coincidence. And while they are stripping the old house completely empty in order to renovate it, we are sketching and building models.
We now live in an apartment in the Spaarndammerplantsoen, which is a small park in an old neighborhood famous for its “Amsterdamse school” architecture. It’s the style from the beginning of the 20th century, 1910-1930, famous for its complicated sculptural masonry. Our building block was designed by Michiel de Klerk and even though we find it far too small, we actually live in two houses which have been joined. What is really wonderful is the fact that it is situated IN the park, which means no cars in front of us. It was the perfect spot for Sembo and Kanna to practice their bicycle skills. The park practically serves as our garden and we have enjoyed many picnics and BBQ parties on its well-groomed lawn. We even have our own private outdoor space in the form of a balcony that stretches all along the backside of the facade. Its particular dimensions -1.2m wide and 14m long- and two rooms opening onto the balcony – the bathroom and the kitchen- has given rise to many kinds of uses. It is a race parcours, the children love running in circles from inside to outside, sometimes even climbing through the windows from their bedroom or the living room. In the first 3 years we had build a sandbox on it, which was great fun especially for Kanna. It is of course ideal for hanging the laundry, growing plants and doing dirt work like sanding, drilling and painting. It is the place for the compost bucket, and we even hang the hammock there on sunny days. If I want to talk to one of my lovely neighbors, we do it over the balcony. Ingrid passes over the Albert Hein Action gifts to the children and once when she saw me struggling with the laundry on a rainy day, she offered to put it in her dryer. A few hours later she returned a pile of neatly ironed laundry over the balcony, so sweet. In winter however we are confined to our 1st floor flat and it is especially then that the lack of space becomes pressing.
Maybe it doesn’t help that I grew up in a large house with high ceilings, a fireplace and a huge garden around it, but now I really feel crammed between the 4 walls and low ceiling. Virginia Wolf is one of my heroes and I consider a room of one’s own as a personal advise. Our sense of autonomy and self esteem grows in a space that is exclusively our own. I realize it is a spoiled thing to say when I think about all those refugees that even if they could live here with a family of 10 they would not complain about lack of space. In de Klerk’s days, probably even more people were living here. I explain it away by considering the dimensions of our building site. My dad was one of the first persons I consulted and when he stood there on that piece of land he asked me: “But Fem, where exactly do you imagine to build a house here?” The challenge is clear: Designing a small house that FEELS big.