ARCHICON. SONNEVELD HOUSE: THE REFLECTION OF TIME

TEXT: ANGELIKA OGROCKA, WOJCIECH TRZCIONKA, PHOTOS: JOHANNES SCHWARTZ, WOJCIECH TRZCIONKA

ROTTERDAM 30.7.2016

ARCHITECTURE DESIGN TRAVEL

Walking through subsequent rooms of the Sonneveld House we feel as if we were swimming or levitating. We feel like crystals in an enormous kaleidoscope. This is caused by the floor, which is fully covered by... mirrors.
The end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s was the time of Dutch avant-garde. The interwar cultural and business elite shone in salons or built them for itself – anew. The Sonnevelds, a married couple of famous manufacturers owning the Van Nelle plant which produced tobacco, was also looking for a place for themselves. Albertus Sonneveld, delighted with the latest architectural solutions seen during his numerous business trips to America, wished to apply them in his country. He did it in Rotterdam, where he first built an ultramodern factory (today included on UNESCO World Heritage List) and then a family house. He hired Johannes Andreas Brinkman and Leendert Cornelis van der Vlugt from Brinkman & Van der Vlugt (a studio which was only rising to fame at the time) to carry our both projects.

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The Sonneveld family moved into the residence in 1932. Due to frequent business meetings, the owner was only a guest in the villa, which was therefore managed by his wife Gesine Grietje Bos – a thoroughly practical and modern woman in her time. Though she loved luxury (the manufacturers from Rotterdam had the first car in the city), she taught their children by herself and had an ambitious approach to home decoration. The kitchen was equipped with the most innovative solutions of the time such as electric cooker rings and coffee grinders, while the bathroom – with a heated towel hanger and hydromassage fittings. The latter was quite extraordinary given that very few Dutch homes had a bathroom at all in that period. The dishes were transported from the kitchen to the dining room using an electric lift operated by servants, who had their own rooms with small bathrooms in the house.

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The Sonneveld House delights the visitors with its atmosphere of Dutch functionalism and neoplasticism, whose reflection in architecture is the Nieuwe Bouwen (new construction) style. With every step, we notice the influence of De Stijl and Bauhaus. The play of horizontal and vertical lines determines the orderly distribution of furniture – and the latter is minimalistic and coherent. Metal tubes in chairs, tables and wardrobes are contrasted with dim colours of upholstery. Smooth and curved furniture shapes were innovative at the time: conical, cylindrical and spherical lamps made of crystal glass are subtle accessories creating the extraordinary atmosphere of the house. Most of them were made especially for the villa by famous Dutch designer Willem Hendrik Gispen.

Big windows letting in the sunlight and a monochromatic facade are clear references to modernist buildings – and it only gets better as we go on. The entire floor is covered by mirrors. Walking through subsequent rooms we feel as if we were swimming or levitating. The house seems infinitely big, especially toward the far end. When we look at the floor, everything on it is reflected, mixed and multiplied. We feel like crystals in an enormous kaleidoscope. When the sunlight comes in through the huge windows, the apartment glistens like a jewel which reflects the light in all directions.

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The Sonneveld House is currently maintained by Het Nieuwe Instituut, located on the other side of Jongkindstraat street, and managed by Stichting Volkskracht Historische Monumenten – a foundation which bought the building in 1977. Owing to cooperation with the Netherlands Architecture Institute, it was open for visitors in 2001. The original interiors were restored by valued Dutch designer Richard Hutten. The reconstruction recreated the equipment from 1933, which was possible due to detailed drawings and documents gathered in the owners’ family archive. Tickets: EUR 6.50–10. www.huissonneveld.nl

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Brinkman & Van der Vlugt – an architecture studio founded by Johannes Andreas Brinkman and Leendert Cornelis van der Vlugt. They were one of the most recognizable creative duets and left their mark on the appearance of Dutch cities, mainly Rotterdam. After der Vlugt’s sudden death in 1936, the studio ceased its thriving activity of over 15 years.