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September 2013

Homes Urban conversion


B L OC K s Stefan Hooijer and Suzanne de Goeij have turned part of a listed shipping canteen in Amsterdam into a practical home Words Laura Snoad Photography James Stokes

this picture and left Suzanne has used a minimalist palette; architect Marc Koehler at the ground-level entrance steps



September 2013

this picture The living room section of the apartment has been left open, creating the feeling that the building is substantially bigger than it is far left Split into eight units, the former shipping canteen was listed just before Stefan and Suzanne’s project began, which meant the facade couldn’t be changed

Huge blocks have been slotted into the vast space and positioned on top of each other, creating living areas

September 2013



Homes Urban conversion this picture The open-plan spaces don’t have heating; instead, warm air that has risen is pumped down through ventilators. The living area also has a wood burner

‘The design links the front and back facade in a visual way, so light and views open up the heart of the house’



September 2013

Homes Urban conversion

this picture The kitchen design is economical with space, and most of the cupboards are hidden in the wall above Architect Marc Koehler stands in one of the sight lines through the apartment, created by the use of blocks in the middle of the space. Above him, a mesh walkway links the upper-level areas top No space is wasted in the clever modular design – a staircase to the upper levels also doubles as a bookcase


tefan Hooijer and Suzanne de Goeij’s Amsterdam apartment looks as though an architect has played a particularly successful game of three-dimensional Tetris. Huge blocks have been cleverly slotted into the gaps of a vast former shipping canteen and positioned on top of each other, creating living spaces inside, in the recesses of, and above the multi-level structures. It’s a concept that architect Marc Koehler developed to deal with this site’s main challenge: how to divide up such a large volume without diminishing the impact of its front-and-rear full-height glazing and views across Amsterdam’s waterfront, the IJ. ‘The method is to create openings and sight lines from one side of the house to the other,’ explains Koehler, ‘and to link the front and the back facade in a visual way, so the light and the views open up the heart of the house.’ Constructed in the Fifties, the building was a canteen for the Royal Dutch Steamboat Company’s harbour workers,

but after the main port moved towards Noordzeekanaal in the Seventies it fell out of use and was abandoned to squatters. They transformed the empty shell into a collection of artists’ studios, and did such a good job of taking care of it that the municipality sold it to them for a nominal fee of €1 in the early Nineties. It was a smart move for the squatters, as over the past 10 years the space has been divided into eight large units and sold off to be converted into flats – for considerably more than €1. Hovering five metres above the ground, each apartment features a spacecraft-like entrance, with individual staircases leading to the building’s underbelly. Its impressive glass facade was listed just before Suzanne and Stefan started their project, meaning that while they were able to put in double glazing on energy-efficiency grounds, the renovation couldn’t alter the exterior of the building or the geometric facade. Luckily, however, Koehler’s plan to create a little village of freestanding rooms negotiated these restraints. It also meant the project could go ahead more quickly, September 2013



this picture AÂ workspace tucked upstairs allows Stefan and Suzanne to continue working in the evenings without feeling disconnected from the rest of the house 67


September 2013

Homes Urban conversion that doubled up as cupboards, as this structure would spread the weight over a larger surface area. No space is wasted: the staircase to the upper levels is also a bookshelf, while the bedroom walls-cum-wardrobes mean a nook between blocks can transform into a walk-in dressing room. ‘This also saves money,’ says Koehler, ‘because normally you would have to pay for storage and walls, but here you have it in one system.’ The cubes that are on the ground floor now house Nova’s bedroom, the bathroom and the master bedroom, while another volume has been added on top of the latter to create a guest bedroom. This space is connected to the kitchen, dining room and study upstairs by metal mesh walkways, each of which sit on top of the volumes below.  As Stefan and Suzanne’s family expands, an extra container could easily be fitted on top of Nova’s bedroom to create an additional space. Of course, with a space that is book-ended by full-height glazing, striking the right balance between views to the

below The cubes that make up the more private rooms of the house can be added to as the family expands below left Upstairs, the open-plan dining and kitchen areas continue the minimalist scheme, pairing white walls and furniture with key Scandi pieces

The layout: 160sqm

first floor


Living room


second floor kitchen bedroom Plans: Edgar Hoffmann

because without any structural works planned they didn’t have to apply for a building permit. Stefan and Suzanne worked with Koehler for several months to make sure that the ratio and configuration of the new rooms would suit how they wanted to live (they were then expecting their first daughter, Nova, now two). Koehler asked each of them individually to describe their perfect day at home and worked out from their answers which spaces they prioritised, so that he could borrow square metreage from some areas to give to others. ‘The idea is to compress certain functions to liberate other spaces,’ says Koehler. ‘You compress things you don’t want to see all the time (such as WCs, bathrooms, and storage) to open up views between the front and back of the house.’ Placing the blocks in the middle of the space – in order to avoid the facade – meant that they didn’t necessarily line up with supportive columns underneath, so Koehler also needed to develop a load-bearing wall system that was both light and strong. The solution was to design partitions


September 2013




Homes Urban conversion this picture Stefan and Suzanne’s bedroom has a window through to the main space, giving them a view of the water without being overlooked

above The bathroom is functional – Koehler’s design has condensed areas like this in order to give more space to the open-plan living room top Nova’s bedroom also has a window out into the main living area, with blinds to separate it from the rest of the volume when she goes to bed


outside world and privacy was another key challenge for Koehler. At the rear of the house, the blocks that form the master and guest bedroom sit 80 centimetres away from the facade, but they are fitted with windows to the space. This effectively creates a double facade, which allows Stefan and Suzanne to open up views of the outside world – without the outside world looking in. The block system also solved another big problem: how to control the temperature of such a large, open-plan space when they weren’t permitted to add extra insulation because of the building’s listed status. Deciding that it was only really the bedrooms that needed to be a constant temperature, Koehler introduced a climate-control system in these rooms, then fitted the more open spaces with ventilators that pump warm air that has risen to the ceiling back down to ground level. ‘It saves an awful lot of energy because you’re only heating the spaces that really need it, and in the large room you accept an occassional fluctuation in temperature,’ explains Koehler. ‘For


September 2013


PROJECT TEAM Architect Marc Koehler Architects (+31 20 575 5508; Interior design Made Up Interior Works (+31 61 011 4150; Contractor Archangel Bouw (+31 20 684 2525; Structural/ building adviser Chris Kreijns (+31 30 737 0260; fixtures & fittings Radiators Instamat (+31 57 857 4949; Tiles Mosa (+31 43 368 9229; Bath Mocoori (

when it really gets too hot, we fitted two roof windows that are operated with a remote control.’ Suzanne originally wanted to use more colour in the apartment, but Koehler persuaded her to keep the scheme minimal – which she is now grateful for. The couple have paired the rough finishes of the wooden cladding and exposed industrial ceiling with contemporary, colourful pieces, focusing on geometric patterns and zingy details. One of the biggest strengths of the build is that even the back has views towards the harbour (achieved by staggering the height of the blocks). ‘Normally, people separate these spaces – one section with the functional rooms and a big zone with all the views – but we mixed it,’ says Koehler. ‘We’ve allowed beautiful vistas to happen all over the house. It gives an optimistic sense of life, because it’s always bright and you always enjoy a view towards the water.’

Choose clean lines, vibrant hues and geometric patterns to accessorise a minimalist home, p70

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