When you live in the Netherlands, one of the world’s most densely populated countries, having your own backyard is a luxury. Some compensate for life in an urban apartment by renting one of the volkstuinen (people’s gardens), little plots of land crammed together
in suburban parks, each with its own tuinhuis (garden house). The tuinhuis is what you might call a popular architectural form—usually a chalet-style wooden shed colored mahogany or green and guarded, as often as not, by colorful gnomes and traditional trellises.
So, strolling through a collection of 130 such individual gardens on the outskirts of Rotterdam, the austere but playful Garden House comes as a very welcome surprise indeed. Designed by Krill architects Harmen van de Wal and Bart Goedbloed for van de Wal’s girlfriend, Claudia Meister, and their four-year-old son, Yona, the house looks sleekly and self-referentially space age in the context of all that kitschy rusticity.
More than a style statement, Krill’s Garden House is a solution to the problems of year-round outdoor living, all on a modest plot of around 1,900 square feet. "We wanted shelter in the winter and shade in the summer, but, above all, something that could just disappear when the weather is perfect," says van de Wal. The result is a structure in three equal parts (each 6'7" by 9'10"), with only one part fixed to the concrete foundation. The other two parts are on wheels, moving easily to attach to any number of anchor points using a simple clip and tension strap system. Twelve different house configurations are then possible, though the family mostly revisits four favorites.
The fixed unit is the kitchen. The other two units can be opened up, by removing their semi-transparent plastic windows, to form U-shaped covered lounging areas, providing shade in bright sun, or docked together to form a square podium or a pavilion-like rectangular dining terrace capable of seating 18 or so. The latter is Meister’s favorite: "It makes the house and garden look bigger, and opens up the view of the water and trees opposite." Van de Wal was inspired by his Indonesian childhood in the 1970s, and the experience of sheltering from tropical downpours in large concrete pipes: "You were inside, yet outside," he says.
The budget was just 18,000 euros (or about $20,000). Roping in friends to assist helped keep costs low: Twelve people took an hour and a half to lay the 45-square-meter concrete foundation, motivated by a barbecue incentive. And the gnome-collecting neighbors? "Proud and thrilled," says van de Wal. "If a little stunned."
Amsterdam-based contributing editor Jane Szita took the train to Ghent–three hours away, but a very different Franco-Flemish culture. While touring Van Everbroeck's house, she took time to revisit Jan van Eyck's 15th-century painted church altarpiece. "Flemish painters' works have a depth of color artists had never achieved before," says Szita. "Ghent was the perfect place for an assignment; one could argue that the city was the birthplace of the modern color palette."