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Renovating our home in Haarlem

In the last week of 2015 we came to live in the Netherlands because of my husband's work. We could have gone anywhere in Europe, as long as it was close to an international airport. Since my whole family still lives in the Netherlands, and because we wanted the children to get more in tune with the Dutch culture, the language and our family, we chose Haarlem (near Schiphol). We first rented a house nearby, and bought a small fixer upperer in the centre of Haarlem. That's since been renovated and rented out (read more here). When it turned out that we were going to stay a little longer than originally planned, we started looking for a house to buy for ourselves; one that needed a bit of TLC. In the meantime, we knew the housing market in Haarlem well, and when we saw our current house for the first time we were immediately sold.

Houses in Sydney are generally very different from here. Australia is a relatively 'new' country, so not much history in architecture. There you rather go for new than old, because old falls apart. Here I go for the classic elements, the high ceilings, the original tiles, ensuite doors, stained glass etc. Also Australians have different demands when it comes to their home (for example, built-in wardrobes in each bedroom, and certainly an adjoining bathroom in the parents' bedroom). Also a walk-in closet, a mud-room (pantry where all coats/shoes/bags etc are dumped) and a rumpus (chill/relax/TV room) is a must. These are all elements that have crept into our plans in Holland as well.

We came here with a huge 40ft container, because we took our entire home content from Sydney. In the meantime, some things have been replaced, though. I don't know if my style was vastly different in Australia, because I always do exactly what I like, I don't follow trends. It's my own style. A bit industrial, a bit quirky. However, I have a penchant for vintage elements, and they are much easier to find here than in Australia of course, so in that respect my house is different. My Dutch followers on instagram find my style very un-Dutch, and the Australian followers find the classic elements fantastic. I think I found the middle ground somewhere?


I don't follow trends and do exactly what I feel like. However, I think it is important that you have a plan, an idea of a feeling that you want to create in your home and then stick to it. Don't just throw everything together you come across and like, because then it becomes a circus. If I had to label myself, it would be: industrial chic vintage. I like items with a story. For example, a vintage workbench from early last century. I love it!! Looks beautiful everywhere. Really classic vintage items are just like a pair of jeans; goes with anything. Then when I went to my mother's house to snoop around, I found my old rattan kiddie chair. So much fun! Just refreshed it with a coat of paint and look – an eye-catcher. Just like the vintage leather boxing gloves of my father-in-law that my husband had inadvertently hidden from me and only realised when I was drooling over a similar (very expensive) pair at the antique market. I love combining vintage items in a modern interior. And if I don't like a certain corner, I try to improve it first with what I already have. For example, I recently hung the genuine berber rug that my husband and I took back from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in the living room. I had no room for it on the floor, I wanted something new on the wall, and voila, that's how this idea was born. And this rug had been in storage for two years!


The kitchen is completely new. The previous layout was traditional, with a narrow galley style separate kitchen. We love cooking and entertaining and it was immediately clear to us we would extend the house and build a huge kitchen. Also in the attic we have expanded and put dormers in the sloping roof. In Australia you live a lot outside, doors are often open, and indoor/outdoor living is the norm. That's what we wanted to achieve here, with a huge harmonica-style folding door that can be fully opened. This way you extend your living space, and you can make the most of summer days. I like natural materials, so chose oak, brick, and marble. Although I did cheat a little and opted for ceramics that looks like marble, because that is completely indestructible.

Personally, I find eye-catchers the most interesting about someone's interior. I have renovated and styled several houses and my rule is always '1 eye-catcher per room'. That's my own rule, do whatever you want with it! But I've noticed that if something really stands out, it has that so-called wow factor, the rest will automatically become more beautiful. Too many eye-catchers is a shame. Then, in my opinion, it becomes a dog’s breakfast. Having said that, you choose and focus on what makes you happy every day, that’s what makes visitors keep looking around (and what makes instagram go viral!).

When I started designing our current house, the building was a blank yet historical canvas. We are blessed with beautiful ornamental high ceilings in the living room and dining room. Those eye-catchers have been there for 150 years! But the large kitchen space didn't exist yet, so here we had to create it ourselves. I like the combination of classic vintage (the original house) with industrial (the extension). And I adore exposed brick; beautiful old weathered brick walls, with history and character. But the extension was to be built from scratch. How could I combine all my wishes? Build with old weathered bricks!

I presented my vision to my contractor. He didn't get it. Why didn't I just want a modern, flawlessly plastered wall? Nooooooooo! I wanted second-hand bricks, the broken stones, the discolored ones, the cement-smeared units, even the ones with moss scraps. They thought I was weird. "Go on," I said, "trust me, it’ll be fine." So they did what I asked them to do. I also laid a few bricks myself (at least then I was sure it didn't look flawless!). The pointers found it all mighty interesting. "What do you mean, you don't want a neat joint? Should I randomly fill with cement? But I can be so neat!'. No, I want sloppy. Like it's been there for years. We tried a few different ways and achieved the most beautiful effect by simply smoothing the joints with a coarse broom. The joiner added it directly to his portfolio on his own website, because he had never done this before. Then I proposed to frame the wall, with recessed lighting. Again, the contractor once again made a fool of me ('Did we just build that brick wall, are you going to build something in front of it again?'). But for me the wall was like a work of art. Those stones, that character, you just have to frame it. And the frame completes it. Because the wall is uneven, you get a beautiful shadow effect when the lights are on. That's how the wall comes alive at night.

Our brick wall is almost 4 meters high. For a moment, I thought, "Should I hang a painting on it or something?" But no, it's art as is. And still early every morning when I come down to the kitchen for my breakfast, I am again happy when I look at that wall. In combination with the statement blue sofa, it completes that side of the kitchen. It's my favourite place in our house. The eye-catcher in the kitchen. Our wow factor. What one remembers from our house. And according to our real estate agent 'So that's the first picture on the housing website and what will make your house sell.'


Light is very important in an interior. People often think too late about a lighting plan, and don't consider it a focal point in an interior plan. It should be, because it can completely transform an interior. Especially with ceilings of 4 meters high it is necessary that you think about natural light, dark corners, and add light in layers. Hence, I have a lot of lamps. Lamps also give character to your interior, and you can change them endlessly. And that's what I do a lot! On the corridor the top floor it can be a bit darker, especially in the Dutch winter. And since I get depressed in those winter months anyway because of all that rain, we've come up with a trick. Above the entire upper floor there is an attic area (convenient for storing things), no direct access to the roof. So I designed lamps that give the illusion that there are two skylights, with daylight lamps. So it is always lovely and light in the attic. If you didn’t know any better, you'd never think these are lamps, but windows.

Children's rooms

The children had their own wishes and I took that into account as much as possible. My son wanted an orange room, but I thought that was a bit much. So the middle ground was orange in his study corner and in the closet. He also wanted enough space for his collections (fossils and gems, and star wars lego). That’s all he wanted. His favourite moment is when it gets dark at night, and he lies in bed with curtains open, overlooking the beautiful building on the other side of the canal. My daughter wanted a pink room. She’s not super girly though, feisty rather, hence the black wallpaper (with dogs, her favourite animals) in the bedroom corner. Her desk is upcycled vintage, and painted the same color as her room. They are both happy with their rooms and love being there.


On paper there were two bathrooms in this house, in practice the bathroom above was a room with a shower stall, two garden tiles with the washer and dryer on it, and a sanibroyeur with saloon doors in front of it in the middle of the room. So we had to get that out. Two bathrooms is a requirement for me, I love having my own bath room, without kids running in and out. The kids are lucky; they got the bath tub. For the children's bathroom I went for an industrial look, although the floor tiles have a touch of vintage. I love the faded pattern. Our ensuite bathroom is more chic, with marble tiles of 2.4 meters though (the tiler wasn't happy with me). There I really wanted a luxurious look with marble, and a double shower. Both bathrooms have wooden furniture and black faucets.


There's little I'd do differently if I could start over. There is 1 window frame that I would have had replaced if I could turn back time but that's about it. My plans were made well in advance, but you have to be flexible because every day something changed during the renovation. It's an old house. But the end result is exactly as I envisioned.

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I continue to make styling changes every day. Much to frustration of my poor family, who come home to a new set up regularly. But I love a good shuffle! Want to keep tabs on whatever I come up with? Follow me on social media!


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Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

I am Marieke, a Dutch Australian interior designer, business executive, tutor, content creator and social media influencer.


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