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.
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.”
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.”
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.