Traditional Dutch homes and older apartments in historic buildings (such as Holland’s iconic canal houses), share unique characteristics: narrow rooms, steep staircases, small living spaces, facades that lean forward…
One of the first things expats notice about older Dutch homes is that they lean forward rather than being perpendicular to the ground as one might expect. Though they appear to be on the brink of collapse, this is not the case. Hundreds of years ago, when many of these buildings were erected in the Netherlands, there were no elevators. This made getting furniture and raw materials to the upper floors of residential homes and factory buildings cumbersome.
One solution commonly utilized was to add a hook to the building’s gable for hoisting up pallets of materials and bulky furnishings. Constructing the buildings at a slight angle leaning forward kept the items from dragging along the facade as they were raised up.
That’s not to say these buildings don’t have slanted floors. Floors and stairs made of wood do sag over time, and since many of these buildings are from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, expats should not expect to have level floors when renting a unit in these older buildings.
Older homes and buildings in Holland are also extremely narrow. The reason behind has to do with the Dutch tax code which was employed centuries ago. Back then, homes were assessed according to the amount of street frontage it took up. To avoid higher assessments, new houses were constructed that were tall, narrow and deep rather than square like today. This kept tax payments low.
There are plenty of examples of adjoining properties that have been purchased by the same buyer and connected on the inside. Today these buildings range from hotels and multi-unit residences to museums and art galleries.
Small Living Spaces
Expats will find that typical Dutch apartments are small in size compared to those found in other countries (ironic when you consider the Dutch are the tallest people in the world). To make the most of these petite interiors, the Dutch commonly opt for space-saving appliances and furniture. Below are a few examples of these…
A) Small built-in refrigerator/freezers that are typically half the height of an average American refrigerator, B) Magnetrons (combination microwave and oven), C) Combination washer/dryer in one, D) Beds with drawers and storage space built in to the base.
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.
Water Closet vs Bathroom
In many Dutch homes and apartments, the water closet (where the toilet is located) is separate from the bathroom (where the bathtub and shower are located). It takes a bit of getting used. Also unusual for many expats is that the hand sink in the WC typically only offers cold water. Something to remember when using the toilet before heading out on cold winter days.
Ground Floor Windows
It is important to be aware of the unique way the Dutch regard privacy. On the one hand, because they feel everyone is on the same level as everyone else, they frown upon neighbors who close their living room curtains or blinds as if to hide their possessions. This is true even if the home happens to be in one of the many old towns, where the front window is literally on the street at arm’s reach of pedestrian’s walking by. Oddly enough, they also believe it is inappropriate to stop and look through a neighbor’s window.
To satisfy the quandary many home owners find themselves put in, trying to achieve some level of privacy but also being good neighbors, a textured translucent adhesive strip is frequently applied to the front. It distorts what is going on behind the strip (which is usually at eye level), but isn’t considered rude the way closed curtains can be.