The inventive spirit of Dutch design is on full display at Amsterdam’s Conservatorium Hotel.
The Dutch, it’s said, aren’t afraid to be normal, because for them, “normal” is “strange enough”. I experience this worldview first-hand when my assigned host, Wes Viana Ferreiro at Amsterdam’s Conservatorium Hotel, offers me a chocolate bar from Dutch brand Tony’s. He tells me that, unlike most chocolate bars with even sections, this one is designed with uneven bits, because that’s how the world actually is – which is to say, irregular and unexpected.
That chocolate bar is a micro representation of the hotel itself. To be sure, the historic facade that passers-by see from the street, in the heart of the city’s Museumplein district, hides cutting-edge design that combines vegetation with steel; bricks with glass; and arches and mosaics with industrial beams. The stunning blend of these disparate elements has helped establish the fiveyearold Conservatorium as a leading luxury hotel in the Netherlands – the choice of A-listers like Madonna, Rihanna and Justin Bieber.
The eclectic interior of the hotel reflects its evolution, which started at the end of the 19th century when Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel designed the neo-gothic building that forms the hotel’s core. Tiles featuring bees and hives along passageways point to its postal bank beginnings, while a cluster of hanging violins at the entrance of the historic wing marks its incarnation as a music conservatory in 1983.
In 2008, Milanese architect Piero Lissoni was brought in to transform the building into a hotel. He introduced a multi-storey glass atrium, and a minimalist aesthetic to its 129 guest rooms – injecting elements of space and light that characterise contemporary design.
I arrive to the sight of a bronze statue of Miffy, a popular Dutch rabbit character, adorning the entrance. The lobby, housed within the modern glass atrium, is dubbed the “living room of Amsterdam” for its stylish, laid-back ambience and its popularity as a local hangout.
Here, well-heeled guests lounge on low seats, flanked by a line of trees that brings the outdoors into the space.
The hotel assigns a host to every guest upon arrival to help create a bespoke experience of the city. The genius of the service is clear: As soon as I check in, I can immediately opt for a walk to Amsterdam’s Nine Streets, a design-centric neighbourhood full of quirky shops, with my host Ferreiro.
While admiring picturesque views of canals, I discover why the Dutch are inclined to define luxury along the lines of innovation, and not merely opulence. “The Dutch are not very emotional people,” he explains. “We don’t really like to flaunt our wealth. We believe in living an honest, modest life, with nothing to hide.” The creative side of that spirit is on full display at the hotel’s flagship restaurant. The Asian-inspired Taiko matches minimalism with dramatic flair, featuring ceiling-high shelving and eclectic Japanese sake, pottery and artwork. The swanky Tunes Bar, meanwhile, features Lissoni’s signature transparent design and folded steel staircase. With both establishments headed by celebrated Dutch chef Schilo van Coevorden, who’s known for his creative interpretation of global cuisines, they’re fast becoming hotspots in Amsterdam’s culinary scene.
While awaiting my flight at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I catch sight of Dutch designer Maarten Baas’ Real Time in Lounge 2. Hung from the ceiling, the 3m-high timekeeper shows a handyman painting the minutes behind a translucent dial. It’s a film projection, but looks remarkably real. I’m once again reminded of the power of Dutch design: To turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and to put a smile on your face.