How do the Dutch live?

Ulrike Grafberger, Thursday, April 11, 2013

To be honest: looking into someone else’s living room and seeing how they live is very interesting. And in Holland, you don’t even have to peer through the keyhole to do this. No, the curtains in the houses are usually wide open so that you don’t even need to do anything other than shamelessly cast a glance into the domestic idyll as you pass by.

So I’m not the only one looking through other people’s windows. I’m also an open book for my neighbours opposite. Thanks to our large window, they know everything about me. They know that I always clean on a Sunday, that I sit for too long in front of my computer in the evenings and that my mother-in-law was visiting.

No curtains, no blinds. The Dutch custom allegedly goes back to Calvinism. Honest citizens have nothing to hide and with open curtains, everyone can be assured that others are honest too.

No curtains and large windows

But why are the windows in Holland so big that you can still share in the details of others’ lives? The architect Simone Gorosics explains: “On the one hand, many windows are what are known as verhuisramen, in other words removable windows. If you want to move house, you can remove windows like these completely and lift furniture out through the window. That’s why there’s also very often a hook for the hoist hanging from the gable of the house. Because the steps into Dutch houses are usually narrow and steep, you can’t get a cupboard up them.”

“Another reason is that of structure and cost. Window glass is much cheaper than stone. Particularly for previous single glazing. It’s different today. Insulation and thermal protection glazing are making windows expensive again. So you hardly see any windows as big as this any more in new builds.”

The sky’s the limit...

We were very lucky therefore with our house built in 1912: the windows are large, as is the through lounge. But the rest of a Dutch house is in miniature only. The toilets are so small that when you sit down, your knees are squashed up against the toilet door. And the kitchens are so cramped that you’d rather not cook a big spread and give priority instead to frozen foods. There are usually no lofts and basements at all and the washing machine, clothes horses and mineral water crates therefore have to be accommodated in the rooms of the home. Nor is there enough space for stairwells and with their extremely small steps that take only half your foot, they therefore lead you almost vertically upstairs.

But this constriction makes you creative. You build upwards. Bunk beds are popular and the dryer doesn’t usually stand next to the washing machine, but above it. My favourite is the pulley in the entrance area for hoisting your bicycle up as far as the board ceiling so that you can walk straight through underneath it. And then if everything’s still not been cleared up, you can make do by building another storey - up on the flat roof.

... or on water

Another option for overcoming the constant lack of space in Holland (the Netherlands are the most densely populated country in Europe), is a small place on the water. A house boat is the solution. There are 2,500 house boats in Amsterdam alone, but they can also be found in Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam and other Dutch cities. In all, there are around 10,000 legal and highly coveted house boat moorings available in Holland. Living on the water – despite the damp and grey, animal neighbours in the water – promises a very special lifestyle on the water, almost a year-round holiday feeling. And who wouldn’t want that?