Older Dutch homes and apartments in multi-unit historic buildings found in most city centers in Holland, including Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Haarlem and Leiden, often share unique (somewhat unusual) characteristics that newly arriving expats should be aware of…
For starters, many buildings, especially the iconic Dutch canal houses, lean forward rather than being perpendicular to the ground as one would expect. Even though they appear to be on the brink of collapse, it is not the case. At the time the houses were built, there were no elevators or motorized lifts to easily get furniture and bulky items up to apartments on higher floors. One solution was to attached a large hook to the gable at the top. This allowed them to use a rope and pulley system to lift the item up to the apartment where it could then be taken in through the window. Since the hooks did not stick out very far from the building, they started building new homes leaning forward to help avoid the item being lifted from getting caught on the building as it was lifted.
That’s not to say the the floors of apartments in these older buildings are perfectly flat. They aren’t. Floors and stairs made of wood do eventually sag and since we are talking about construction that may well be 100-200 years old, the likelihood is very high that floors in these apartments will not always be perfectly flat.
Older homes and buildings in Holland are also extremely narrow. This situation came about hundreds of years ago when homes were assessed taxes according to the amount of street space it took up. To get around this, narrower homes started being constructed. Most were long rectangular box-like structures while some had narrow facades and widened further back.
There are many examples of adjacent properties that have been connected. This often results in seemingly odd slanted hallways due to the floors of the connected buildings not being at the same height originally.
Expats will find that Dutch apartments and homes are small compared to those in other countries (ironic when you consider Holland has the tallest people in the world). To make the most of their petite interiors the Dutch opt for space-saving alternatives. For example, the kitchen is likely to have a small, built-in refrigerator half the height of standard American or Canadian ones. This is why Dutch people need to grocery shop more frequently, sue to less storage space. Most apartments have stacked washer/dryers rather than having larger side-by-side appliances.
Another Dutch space-saving solution expats will need to get used to is the steepness of staircases and how narrow each step is. This can can take a while to get used to, especially when descending the stairs.
Lastly, the Dutch have an odd regard for privacy. On the one hand, they believe everyone is the same as everyone else and should have nothing to hide from each other. They look down upon neighbors who close their curtains or blinds for privacy. Oddly enough, the Dutch also find it inappropriate to look through a neighbor’s window.
What many Dutch homes now do is install a textured translucent adhesive strip across the front window. This allows for slightly more privacy because the strip distorts what is behind it, although one can still see clearly if they look above or below the strip.