Sunday, October 28, 2007

My House

Now that I have some regular readers (at least I hope so) I thought it would be nice to tell something about how and where I live. My apartment block in the Amsterdam Van Bossestraat was built in 1915 and declared a monument in 2004. The building stretches out to the left and right, but with a slightly lower roof. Hence it has been nicknamed 'The Castle' sometimes. I'm not sure about this, but I think it was designed by the architects bureau of Mr. Pierre Cuyper, who desigend the famous Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam. In 1915 Mr Cuyper himself was far over 80 years old, so it's likely his son Joseph deserves the credits. I only know for sure several other buildings in my neighbourhood (De Kempenaerstraat) were designed by his student and coworker De Bazel. But therefore the connection is quite obvious.

The monumental status of the building meant it had to be restored to its original state on the outside. During the seventies and eighties, most of the traditional cross log windows and panel doors were replaced by ugly modern ones and of different types at that. At the same time the landlords planned a thorough modernization of the apartments on the inside. At that time, going crazy on 40 square meters, my BF and I had been looking for a bigger place for ages, but without much success or otherwise we couldn't agree on the few offers that we had. It may be hard to understand for US people how hard it is to find a proper apartment (especially for rent), but it is in this densely populated country and from the big cities the problem is spreading to the area around them. And if you read on you'll see it wasn't any better in the past.

The renovation offered new options though. Not long after we heard about it, our upstairs neighbour moved out and I knew they wouldn't rent the flat out again until after the works were done. So I asked the landlords if they could join the two apartments together. Well, the answer was a disappointing 'no'. But in the end they agreed to letting my BF move upstairs on his own. So now we live contently 'together' as neighbours and I have to say we're happier than ever before.

On the picture you can see each vertical row of flats has two front doors. I have my own front door that leads directly to my ground floor (first for US) and the door on the left side leads to the stairways to the upstairs. I think this was done to save space. Otherwise the hallway to a shared entranced would have been taken from my space. Now that's my private hallway. This means to visit each other we have to pass outside on the street, but luckily the porch is covered and it doesn't bother us at all.

In 1943 an English bomber was shot by the occupiers of our country and crashed on my building after hitting the ornamental tower with its wing. Only one of the New Zealand crew of four survived and seven citizens died. Three of them were inhabitants of my very apartment.

From what I read, the row of flats I live in and the next door's were completely destroyed, but I think it was mainly the add ons on the back side of the building that housed the bedrooms at the time.

This picture is from before the last renovation. The add ons were isolated on the outside and beautifully plastered.

After repairing the damages the replaced ornamental tower was badly taken care of and in the late sixties or early seventies they tore it down. I found this photo from 1966 in the city's archives.

Locals who saw the crash and former inhabitants have been lobbying ever since to have it replaced again. With the monument status and final renovation their request has finally been granted in 2005.

Also a plaque was placed to commemorate the victims of the crash.

While doing research for this entry I stumbled upon a weblog of a nice gentleman, Joop, who is a teacher, and wrote about both the renovation and the crash. It turned out he lived in my apartment as a kid in the fifties and sixties. Being a collector of used items I'm always curious about their history and this equally counts for my house, so I contacted him. Now you have to imagine this: the bare 40 square meters that drove me and my BF crazy, housed complete families at the time, and often with over four kids! The narrow 2 x 7 meters add on at the back of the house, that now are my bathroom, the central heating installation and washer closet and my narrow kitchen, then were two (2!) bedrooms where the kids slept in bunk beds. The parents had a fold out bed in the living room.

In the seventies the first real suburbs were being built around Amsterdam and families like this moved out there, leaving their small apartments for young couples, students and singles. However due to bad maintenance the buildings got in such a bad state it seemed the only solution would be to tear them down and replace them with cheap and ugly modern buildings. Thanks to the squatter movement that was prevented. By occupying the empty apartments in the end they forced the city council to start renovating. This way the authentic character of many old neighbourhoods in Amsterdam has been preserved.

When my BF and I moved in in 1989 the flat had had a first basic renovation and at least a proper bathroom and kitchen were put in, a concrete floor, new ceilings and some double glazing. But we still had that narrow, now one bedroom, 2 x 7 space and we never knew how to put the bed in... Thank god that's all better now. And of course we have twice the space.

I have to thank Joop for the picture of the plaque. It turns out he still often comes back to his old neighbourhood to take photo's. Dutch readers can read his story here.

Now all I have to do is grant his wish to have a look at the inside of his old house, which I will gladly do in the coming weeks or so.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Latest Creation

OK, this is a bit shameless self promotion for my Etsy shop, but I really didn't start my weblog for this purpose. This just happens to be such a great example of how I change curb found knitwear into 'arty' tea cozies and other things. And it just happens to be for sale as well.

The nice story about this is how the discarded, from wearing and washing somewhat sagged H&M sweater (otherwise the yarn was in perfect condition), just exactly matched with the colour of some vintage seventies beads I picked up at my mum's weeks before I found it. And then there was a leftover of purple cotton yarn from a sweater I bought years ago in the thrift shop, that was just perfect for the embroidery.

I like to design fully inspired by these accidental finds and combinations and my own eclectic mind and hope I am free from influence from fashion, tv and other commercial things. Well, there's a full description of the tea cozy in the shop, so read that here.

To end, if your fingers start to itch right now, I don't think I showed that link before, here's a complete instruction for unraveling sweaters.

PS: if you read the earlier post about Queensday with the beige potholders, they were sold and the link will now lead you to the mint green replacements.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Do you like to read? I love books. I think books are so important, educative and enriching my life. And I like to share that with others. Ok, there is a lot of pulp too. But in general, I worship the book. I'm a bit of an omnivore: detectives, mystery, romance, political, historical, fantasy, biographies, all good for me. How can people throw them away?

As said in the last post, we find loads of books on the Queensday market. But also in the normal trash we get good stuff. Usually it's a box or plastic bag full of them. If I see a few interesting titles we just take the whole lot home.

We find so many that I can't even read them all. The fun is that I've learned to appreciate and read books that I may have never chosen in a shop or the library. I've learned to not want the latest bestseller (anyway I get the bestsellers from a few years back). New books are too expensive for me and it takes no effort to avoid book shops. It took a bit more practice to stay away from the book section in the thrift shop, but I manage. From the books that really don't appeal to me or for whatever reason I won't ever read, there's always a few that I think might be nice for friend X or Y and make great gifts. I always say how I got them and nobody minds. If there's any real pulp left over it ends up in the waste paper collector (however I found a seller on Etsy who makes wonderful objects from such book covers, so maybe I should think again next time...)(if you're curious, see in my favourite Etsy items widget below in the side bar for the mini pin cushions, that's her).

But also the books that the BF and I read and did like, we share with friends. We don't have the problem of having to worry about the unreturned book, which I know has stopped many people from lending books. Shame on them! Books deserve to be read countless times. But it's easier if it didn't cost you anything, right? I often even say: Bring it back if you want, but if you know someone who would like to read it too, feel free to pass it on! Of course, writers have to make a living and they need to sell copies, but I don't think any writer wants to see his book in the trash. I think what a writer wants most is to be read.

We find books in different languages (after all Amsterdam is a very international city), but mainly in Dutch and English. The BF is a Frenchie and though he speaks Dutch and English, until recently he wouldn't read anything but French. It was always trouble to find him cheap books. But his own enthusiasm for our little 'book club' changed that. After finding a couple of Ludlums and Le Carres, which I told him are respected and famous writers, he was so eager to lend them to his best mate Edward (who's a Dutch guy but born from British parents) that I couldn't even lay a hand on them yet. But Edward returned them with the comment: Fantastic! so the BF got curious and now he is hooked. He found having no trouble reading English at all and a world of before unknown literature (it's hard to find French translations of foreign books in Holland) has opened for him. I am so proud!

In the meantime I still haven't had a chance to read the Ludlums, because he already passed them on to his Turkish friend from our local coffee shop. Oh well, I still have about two meters of other books to go through... I just started a Tom Wolfe.
All books on these shelves are found and still to be read. As you can see I don't even have enough place to store them. What I'm done with goes in boxes and hopefully finds new readers some day.