An article about something exquisitely beautiful, but with a sting in the tail.
“If you decide to visit it, remember to bring your suitcases, as you’ll want to move in straight away!”
The Sonneveld house
The Sonneveld house – by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt, Rotterdam, 1933
The building has stylistic links with Le Corbusier, De Stijl and German modernism. It is also has an industrial link. Sonneveld was a director of the Van Nelle factory which was used to produce metal components for the building.
A compact, private detached town house for the family of a wealthy industrialist which includes living space for servants.
Perhaps not so well known here, but a real gem of European modernism.
The fabric of the building and the contents have recently been restored and appear as they did in 1933. Throughout the building there is evidence of great thought as to the suitability and provision of each convenience. Extraordinary care has also been taken during the sensitive and painstaking restoration
The Sonneveld house is essentially a rectangular box shape with additions. It is over three floors and it also has a small basement and roof terrace. It has a flat off-white exterior surface with silver coloured metal detailing, black exposed steelwork and extensive tiling to ground floor. Those facades facing the streets nearby are mainly blank and offer privacy while those facing the garden have generous windows. There are separate service and owner entries. There is a lovely exterior spiral staircase which leads down into the garden.
Metal detailing is prominent in the rear elevation. Window and door modules are carefully fitted almost flush with their facades. Each window module has an external blind cassette incorporated for shade. Most noteworthy is how the parapet rail to the first floor terrace becomes the spiral stair handrail.
The simple exterior hides a fairly rich and complex interior subdivision. There are an entry, office, service areas and a garage on the ground floor. Living and bedroom spaces are on the floors above. These spaces are beautifully detailed.
More on-line images of the Sonneveld house can be seen here.
Here are a few more of our own photographs.
Colour is a an important feature of this house. Rooms are colour themed. This is the the yellow dining room. It has red accents.
There are individual architect-designed room colour schemes throughout. Most of the furnishings are also original.
So most unusually, one can see the entire original colour scheme, and one can see how extensively the architect used of colour as part of a modernist design scheme.
The glasswear included in the dining room display cabinet was also locally produced. Examples of similar wares by these manufacturers appear occasionally on the present day Netherlands second hand market for modest prices.
Here is a servant’s bedroom
Notice how the same bed, table and chair type is used by all the house inhabitants.
Work areas are red Here is a kitchen detail.
Gispen manufactured much of the furniture in the building including these beds in the background . A similar version of this chair is still in production. Today the Delft factory still produces furniture and it is possible to buy examples of the some models shown in the Sonneveld house.
The garden is as was established in the early 30’s. It is simple with quite a lot of lawn and bushes used for perimeter screening to the rear, and as a lower boundary definition to the front.
Because the construction methods and materials date to the 1930’s, a great deal of renovation has been done. In the book produced by the Netherlands Architecture Institute a telling detail is the nationality of enormous number of firms involved in restoring and refurbishing Sonneveld house, These include Project management, Supervision, Providing public information, Advising on Restoring, Advising on Refurbishing, Restoration work Main Contractors, Restoration work Sub Contractors and Suppliers, Refurbishment work and Suppliers and finally Lenders and Donors. All of these, with one exception, are Netherlands firms or organisations with Netherlands addresses.
To the thoughtful person, this building is an example of many things. Foremost, is an example of true modernism at work, linking ownership, manufacturing, design and utility.
This building also reveals the Netherlands in microcosm.
The entire project from its origin in the 1930s through to its renovation is an example of Dutch confidence and competence. In it’s own way this building shows how the people of the Netherlands think about themselves and their place in the world. It’s clear that they are quite capable doing these things themselves, that they have the resources, skills and training to manage and complete such a project with little, if any assistance from other nationals.
It also shows how successful people in European cities may be able think differently to their British or Scottish counterparts.
This may seem like the country house in the town, but couldn’t be more different from the British Imperial Model of a country house. There are no Classical porticos, no fake grandeur. It’s beautiful, practical, modern and usable. It was the first house in Rotterdam with a fully equipped, built in garage. So this is no-fuss high quality private domestic architecture in the city, right there on the street, with easy public access. The building’s position included the owner in society rather than excluding him from it and hiding him away in a private estate in the countryside. A statement of belief in the city, the individual, aspiration, success; an example of the successful citizen in society- engaged in and part of the modern world. Of course this quality of private architecture in the heart of a great city enhances the standing and the status of both.
It is also an example to we Scots as to how how we could do better. How we could contribute to revival of run down Scottish towns centres and the attractiveness of Scotland’s cities. Where are the projects in the pipeline or recently constructed which do just that?
Then there’s the house’s furniture and manufactures.
Are our education systems, designers and architects and the Scottish business world able to produce to this quality without reaching beyond Scotland’s borders to do so?
When can we expect reasonably priced home-designed and mass-produced examples made in Scotland, which we can accept and be proud of, made by present day Scots and which will astonish and delight the world? Where and how will these people receive the craft and organisational training to enable them? And if you said to me that in various forms, these things exist in Scotland, how do we pull them together to make it all happen?
After all, if you like the look of a Gispen side-chair in the Sonneveld house, you can nip along to the nearby factory and buy one for yourself to take home today.
This building can cause me to think about many things. What can our response be to a proposition like this? Should we just move in because its so agreeable?
Can a different response be made? One which looks towards a better Scottish future?