At the Elm

Originally published in 

When a couple in Amsterdam decided to upgrade their residence from a small houseboat to a larger one, they sought a design that would elevate the kitchen—literally. Set on the top floor and opening onto a large terrace, the airy room is the hub of the house(boat).

Vesser / Van Der Ende Residence

Living in a houseboat on a tree-lined canal in the middle of Amsterdam may offer many advantages, but a large, live-in kitchen is rarely among them. So when you step into the floating home of Ingmar Visser and Jaro van der Ende, the expansive kitchen comes as a real surprise—more downtown loft than nautical galley. With its beautifully handcrafted elm cabinets, clean, uncluttered lines, and sunny outdoor terrace, it’s more than a space for cooking. “The kitchen is the real heart of our home,” says Van der Ende, cradling three-week-old daughter Pien at the big wooden table. “We spend most of our time here, or outside on the terrace.”

The couple are still adding finishing touches to their newly built houseboat, but they knew from the start that they wanted a big, open kitchen. Early in the design process, they were strolling around the De Pijp area of town, where their boat is moored, looking at the shops and studios of various craftspeople and designers, when they discovered the workshop of furniture maker Crisow von Schulz. His style matched their vision, so they asked him to design a custom kitchen, giving him, says Van der Ende, “a pretty free hand.” The final result uses the wood of an entire locally sourced elm tree, sliced into planks that follow the wood’s natural lines. The planks are slotted, rather than screwed, into a framework of waxed iron. A natural stone countertop and walls finished in dark gray waxed concrete offset the warm honey tones of the wood, while an expanse of witjes—traditional rustic white Dutch tiles—lightens the effect and adds an interesting contrast in texture and color. “The brief indicated that they wanted a kitchen with lots of personality,” says Von Schulz, “and the feeling that this is a space that you really want to live in.”

The kitchen occupies just over a quarter of the top floor of the houseboat, which has two stories totalling 2,150 square feet and enjoys a surprising level of stability, thanks partly to its heavy concrete hull. The boat replaced an older, smaller version, where the couple lived for some time before the arrival of their first child. The old boat had to be demolished to make way for the new one, but some of its timbers live on in a shelving unit that Visser constructed for the main living area. Below the stairs are two pairs of bedrooms sandwiched around two bathrooms (a plan designed by Van der Ende’s cousin Michiel Jansen Klomp). Above, there’s a single uninterrupted space, with the living area at the north end and the kitchen and terrace getting pride of place at the south.

The southern orientation makes the kitchen light and sunny, so the family naturally gravitates there. “Because we’d lived here on a smaller boat before, we knew exactly how the light works and that made it easy when it came to making design decisions,” says Visser. “We both love to cook, so it was essential for us to make the kitchen big enough for us to work in it at the same time. And we didn’t want to separate it from the rest of the space in any way.” Having decided to make the kitchen into the focal point of the home, a unique aesthetic was important. “Because it is so open and so visible, an off-the-peg Ikea-type solution was out of the question,” says Van der Ende, “We knew we needed something different—and Crisow certainly provided that. We love the way he used the natural wood to contrast with the modernity of the new structure.”

The final design for the house, by David Keuring, draws on the architect’s own love of sailing and rowing. “In designing this houseboat, I tried to ensure that you experience the water as much as possible,” he says. Large, low windows provide the expansive watery perspectives and rippling reflections that give the space its atmosphere; a tall narrow window was added to the north end to provide a view of the nearby bridge. While water is a dominant element in any floating house, the kitchen and terrace introduce a balance of earth and air, and of course, in a house full of enthusiastic cooks, there’s fire at play on the stovetop every day.

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