Chris and Michel Ruygrok are fond of change: repainting a wall, refurbishing a lamp, rearranging the artworks or revamping a piece of furniture.
The couple view their home as an endless project, though they have plenty to do in their day jobs: Chris works as a kindergarten teacher and Michel is busy designing interiors. Both of them are very creative and love visiting flea markets and collectors’ fairs. The result of their shared passion is visible in every corner of their house – a large building in the centre of Haarlem, in the Netherlands, dating from about 1900. The property consists of two floors with an attic, and behind it stretches a garden covering more than 20m2.
Chris and Michel have lived in the house for a dozen years, but the couple have been making their mark on it for a great deal longer. Chris explains, “Thirty years ago, when I started my career as a kindergarten teacher, we would get to know the parents of the children in their homes. I first set foot in this house on one of these visits and immediately I found it to be a very special place. We became friends with the family living here and when Michel started his business as an interior designer and decorator, our friends in this house gave him his first project. So you could say that although we did not yet live there, the house already felt a bit like home.”
Estida, Michel’s interior design business, is based in Amsterdam – a 20 minute train ride away – and most of his focus is on hotels and restaurants. While most of his professional work is on a large scale, approaching a domestic space is different. “A house mirrors the person living there,” he says.
He continues: “Twelve years ago, our friends sold the house and we bought it. The foundation and structure of the house were in good shape, but it had to be renovated thoroughly. For eight weeks a contractor and a painting company were busy in the house. I went there every night to do the ceilings, the walls and to fit in a lot of personal accents, like wall paintings. Even after this big renovation, every year we start a kind of new special project in the house, such as the garden, the stairs or the attic. It is a never ending story.”
Over the years, the house has changed with the family. Their daughter Elizabeth, now 19, is student at the film academy in nearby Amsterdam. She splits her life between living at home and with her boyfriend. From a previous marriage, Chris has an adult son and daughter and she enjoys being a grandmother to several grandchildren.
Objects with stories
Michel and Chris love their urban surroundings. Nicknamed Bloemenstad, or “flower city”, Haarlem has been the centre of the Dutch tulip-growing district since the 1630s and even now is surrounded by fields of vibrant blooms each spring.
Occasionally, Michel dreams of being the lord of a manor in a more rural setting but, after years spent gathering and tweaking each part of it, he says would take a lot of convincing to leave this house. “Every object has its own story and all of them have been collected with much love,” he explains. “All things together make the interior. It accumulates all the time, and nothing is taken out.”
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