A tour of the Sonneveld House,
I’m day 5 into my Interail trip. My plan is to write these up as I go along, but not necessarily in the right order. I wanted to start off with the Sonneveld House as it’s jaw droppingly amazing. Once this website gets more content I have a feeling these little intros I’m writing will get rather pointless. Anyway, here goes:
Well, I got there by train. I suggest you do the same, it’s so easy on the Eurostar you’d be a fool not to, plus let’s not add to the world’s CO2 emissions unnecessarily so. The Sonneveld House is right in the centre of Rotterdam, which is kind of extraordinary and feels dwarfed by the massive neighbouring development of the more recent museum quarter. Originally it would have been surrounded by fields.
I walked there as I was staying centrally. (I was staying at the CitizenM, which is right next to the Cube Houses by Piet Blom. You can actually stay in the Cube Houses, it’s part of the ‘stayokay’ group of hotels, unfortunately it was fully booked for my days, but you can try and book here).
Stepping into the Sonneveld House is like stepping back into the glamorous life of the early 1930s. It was designed by architects Brinkman and Van der Vlugt and commissioned by Albertus Sonneveld — a director of the Van Nelle Tobacco Factory in Rotterdam — and his wife Gésine for themselves and their two daughters. Brinkman and Van der Vlugt had previously designed the tobacco’s factory, also in the Nieuwe Bouwen school of Dutch modernist architecture, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit, but I would definitely add it to the list if you are in Rotterdam.
The house was built a couple of years after the factory — between 1929 and 1933, and is one of the best preserved examples of a residential dwelling of Dutch Functionalism. Sonneveld was inspired by his many trips to America and overnight stays in luxury hotels. He wanted a house that was truly modern, functional, hygienic and luxurious with all modern conveniences for the modern world. There state of the art gadgets in the house ranged from a wall mounted coffee grinder, to controllable speakers music speakers in every room to telephones in bedrooms. This is an expensive house, it oozes quality, but there are no fripperies. Everything is there to make life more efficient. Mrs Sonneveld did not like to waste, either money or time.
The house is arranged over three floors. The ground floor is mainly given over to the servants quarters, but also includes a studio room for the Sonneveld daughters (my favourite fact is that this room, unlike the others, has a parquet floor, most likely for dancing on). The first floor has the main living spaces: a very modern kitchen (even by today’s standards), a dining room, and large living room with a library area at the end, and picture windows that run the full length of the side of the building to capture what must have originally been amazing views.
Upstairs are the bedrooms, two for the girls (the teenage daughter was also given a large terrace, lucky thing), with a bathroom between the two of them, a guest bedroom, a linen room with storage one can only dream of, a large bedroom for the parents, with a separate dressing area, and their bathroom. Showers at that time were unusual, not only did the Sonneveld have one installed, they had ten shower heads!
Colour plays a big part in the design of the house, there is a wide palette of colours from cornflower blues, milky yellows, vivid greens, reds and even bronze painted in the master bedroom walls. It is used to zone areas, to change and enhance the mood. The architects worked closely with the Sonneveld to ensure the their lifestyle needs were incorporated into the design, for example the daughters’ bedrooms were painted their favourite colours (one blue, the other red).
When the family moved in to their new house in 1933, they brought almost nothing from the old house, besides pictures and children’s toys, they made the conscious choice to ‘live modern’ and all the furniture in Sonneveld House was designed by leading designers and manufactures of the time, many made by the firm of Gispen and some specially for the house.
Sonneveld House opened to the public in 2001 after undergoing extensive restoration work to recreate the original condition of the house and interior — the level of detail is meticulous (there is a very interesting film about the restoration in what was the garage).
Entrance to the house costs €14 standard price for adults, it includes an excellent audio tour. There is also a dedicated children’s audio tour entitles ‘Lodging with Leonard’, Leonard, the grandchild of Mr and Mrs Sonneveld, takes children on a voyage of discovery as he shares with them all the secrets of the house. Children also receive a small suitcase containing items that illustrate Leonard’s story. How sweet is that? I give this house and tour 10/10. Book your tickets here.