written by:
photos by:
July 29, 2012
Originally published in Designers at Home
as
A World Apart

Inspired by her natural surroundings, a Dutch felt artist intuitively crafts a home on a northern Holland harbor.

Window view of sheep outside
Paula Leen and Kees Middendorp lived in their home for 16 years before they finally purchased and renovated it.
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Modern kitchen with zinc pantry and salvaged wood flooring
“We like old stuff, and we like reusing the same materials over and over again,” says Middendorp, who built the kitchen pantry from the home’s old wooden flooring and zinc from their former countertop. Leen commissioned a local ironsmith to create the 11-foot-long kitchen island, as well as the staircase that connects her ground-floor workshop with the family’s living space upstairs.
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Reading area with Axel leather sofa by Gijs Papavoine for Montis
Leen's reading area.
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Modern living space with sheep's wool hanging and antique furniture
Leen and Middendorp’s living space is peppered with an assortment of objects and textures, including sheep’s wool, an antique French farmhouse table, salvaged chairs, a Glo-Ball light by Jasper Morrison for Flos, and an Axel leather sofa by Gijs Papavoine for Montis.
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Courtesy of 
all copyrights Hotze Eisma
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Paula Leen and Kees Middendorp outside
Leen and Middendorp walk down a path in Akkrum.
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Modern home black wood-clad facade
Leen and Middendorp’s home faces the Akkrum marina. In the spring and summer, the family can hear the chirping of birds that lay their eggs on the roof, in nests fortified with stray bits of wool that have floated into the garden. “I like to picture the different colored nests up there,” says Leen. “It gives me a feeling of harmony with nature.”
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Modern bedroom space with tinted plaster walls and Leen furniture
The couple’s bedroom is a serene space with tinted plaster walls and a white felt headboard and lampshade by Leen.
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Modern felt studio sink area
Downstairs, in what was formerly a tractor garage, Leen created a felt-making studio and hangout space that she calls, in her creative English-as-a-third-language way, “the chill room of me.”
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Felt studio space with antique yellow sofa
Here, with the help of an antique sofa and a woodburning stove, she “drinks coffee, gets inspired, and gets warm.”
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Modern felt studio space with concrete slab table
A longtime crafter, Leen worked primarily with clay and did bookbinding. But a decade ago she saw the work of the Dutch felt artist Claudy Jongstra and was drawn to the felt-making process. She experimented by dragging loose sheep’s wool, wrapped around a concrete roller, behind a tractor along the harborfront; after an hour, the fibers would interweave and create a fabric. More recently, following three years of trial and error, she built a large steel machine in her workshop that streamlines the way she creates the material.
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Wall art and handmade objects
Leen's house is filled with assorted ceramics from years past.
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Handmade felt textiles on rack
After initially selling her wares—pouffes, pillows, lampshades, rugs, throws—at the craft shop at Royal Tichelaar Makkum, the oldest ceramics company in the Netherlands, Leen now offers her pieces exclusively through her website and out of her studio, under the label Poetryworld.
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Handmade felt by Paula Leen
As an introvert and an artist, Leen has a strong aesthetic sensibility. "I always go for the most simple design," she says.
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Feltmaker Paula Leen handling sheep wool
"I like buildings where people work with their hands, where craftspeople do their thing—that was an inspiration for our house."—Paula Leen
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Window view of sheep outside
Paula Leen and Kees Middendorp lived in their home for 16 years before they finally purchased and renovated it. Image courtesy of all copyrights Hotze Eisma.
Project 
Poetryworld House
Architect 

For a country as small as the Netherlands, the province of Friesland is about as remote as you can get. Located 80 miles north of Amsterdam, in an agricultural area laced with canals and bordering the Wadden Sea, Friesland is distinct from other Dutch regions for a grab bag of reasons—a high concentration of windmills, a high concentration of speed skaters—but is especially notable for having its own native language, Frisian. Uniquely tuned in to the region’s weather and landscape, Frisian has a multitude of poetic words to distinguish subtle climatic differences: Rûzig means “there is a lot of wind”; koeltsje means “there is a little wind.” Krôkje refers to tiny, slow-falling snowflakes, izelje to the rain that falls on a frozen road, creating a thin layer of ice.

Modern living space with sheep's wool hanging and antique furniture
Leen and Middendorp’s living space is peppered with an assortment of objects and textures, including sheep’s wool, an antique French farmhouse table, salvaged chairs, a Glo-Ball light by Jasper Morrison for Flos, and an Axel leather sofa by Gijs Papavoine for Montis. Image courtesy of all copyrights Hotze Eisma.
Similarly responsive to the region’s physical and atmospheric states is the central Friesland home of Paula Leen and Kees Middendorp, in the town of Akkrum. In 2005, Leen and Middendorp bought Akkrum’s marina, where Middendorp serves as harbormaster and where they had rented a house for 16 years. When they finally bought their longtime residence, they decided to renovate it. They removed the dropped ceilings to expose the rafters and add an airy feeling and installed a radiant-heated concrete floor in their open-plan kitchen, living, and dining area. They also painted the partially yellow exterior black. “For other people, yellow gives a happy sunshine feeling, but for me it was terrible and depressing,” says Leen. “I need black and white and gray, the colors of Friesland. Yellow is an extrovert color. But I am a person who stays inside myself.”

Wall art and handmade objects
Leen's house is filled with assorted ceramics from years past. Image courtesy of Copyright: all copyrights Hotze Eisma.
As an introvert and artist, Leen has a strong aesthetic sensibility. “I always go for the most simple design,” she says. “No bling-bling. I always know what I like and what I don’t like.” These days, what she likes is the home she and Middendorp have created for their family. After years of renovation and creative customization—commissioning metal fixtures from an ironworker friend, salvaging furnishings from local barns and flea markets, and arranging and rearranging tableaus of natural found objects throughout her home—Leen has finished tinkering. “When you create a house from your soul, you don’t have to keep changing things,” she says. “In essence, it’s perfect.”

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