First-time travelers to Amsterdam — perceptive ones, anyway — need only to spend a day navigating its cobbled streets to notice what makes the experience so singular. The buildings are old and narrow, and many seem perilously cockeyed. With their decorative facades and fanciful gables, they resemble oversized gingerbread houses. And when you walk by them, you witness a sight even more peculiar than all of the above: an unobstructed view straight into the living rooms and kitchens of the people who live inside, who refrain from hanging curtains even at ground level. As a locally based friend explained to me on a recent visit, the Dutch may value privacy just as much as the rest of us, but they also take a certain pride in proving they have nothing to hide. This was the thought running through my mind the day that Renny Ramakers, co-founder and director of the influential Dutch design laboratory Droog, let me wander around inside her home unsupervised, snapping hundreds of voyeuristic photos of her possessions while she worked calmly away at her dining table.
Ramakers probably had better things to do that day than attend to a journalist with an amateur camera who seemed strangely eager to ask questions about her tattered cookbooks and travel souvenirs, busy as she was transferring the contents of Droog’s ill-fated New York store to a glitzy new Las Vegas location and prepping for the launch of a game-changing initiative during the Milan fair. But the open-curtain policy prevailed, and she was not only a gracious host but a jovial one, hobbling up and down the stairs on a recently healed knee injury just to tell me more about the staggering view of the city rooftops she gets to take in from her nightly bath. Being an editor of Sight Unseen, after all, I hardly cared about the interior of the duplex Ramakers and her husband converted from what was once two classrooms of a 1923 school building — I was more interested in what the objects she kept inside it revealed about her life, work, and general perspective. While I didn’t get quite enough time to hear all her stories, the slideshow at right does offer a nice peek at how she lives, and the things she lives with.
“I was so dim,” says Greg Krum. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Krum, best known around New York as retail director of the wonderfully quirky Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, is puttering around the sun-drenched kitchen of a renovated 1890s townhouse he shares with two roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s trying to recall the origins of his other career: that of a photographer about to mount his first solo show this May at New York’s Jen Bekman gallery. “Growing up, I was always attracted to making art, but I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s out.’ Then I finally realized it’s not about that. It’s about living a life of ideas.”
At Fair Folks & a Goat, a new retail gallery and tea salon hybrid on New York’s Upper East Side, everything inside the gracious late 19th-century studio apartment is for sale. Well, almost everything — a small candy dish that reads “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” was a gift from co-owner Anthony Mazzei’s mother and “it’s a million dollars,” he jokes, while the vintage paperbacks lining a wall of shelves constitute an actual lending library. Here, the props and merch blend into a seamless backdrop for a new kind of social gathering. “We wanted to create a space for young people to have a home away from home, where instead of alcohol and loud music it would be more like a physical incarnation of a magazine, with design, art, fashion, and culture,” says Mazzei.
The story of Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings began, like many Dutch stories do, in a church. In the late ’90s, Baijings was working for an agency whose headquarters were located inside one of the country’s many abandoned houses of worship. Scholten, a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, had a burgeoning design practice nearby. Scholten was asked to design a small bar for the agency’s office, and “the rest is history,” says Baijings.