A Home For Simplicity
Words and photography by Johanneke Procee & Fanny Olsthoorn, Aore Studios
for NL3 magazine
As friends and creative partners, we often talk about spaces that inspire us. We reflect on the way they are created; their composition, the use of colors and materials, the objects that define the space. Recently we started chatting about our homes – the space we shape and, in return, the space that shapes us.
FO – The first thing I would like to bring up – and I know we’ve got this in common – is how much I value open space in my house. Space has always been important to me in the places I lived in. It has not so much to do with the actual space in terms of square meters, more important is the open character of a space; a kind of clear structure, no hidden details. It creates space to breath, to reflect and to create. We have been lucky with a fairly spacious apartment in the center of Amsterdam facing the water. The high ceilings, the large living space with very few walls and a wide view, make this a very open house. When cuddled up on the couch, my gaze wanders into the ever-changing sky; this gives a liberating feeling of space. Having an open space also means there are very few borders – everything is flexible. I change the position of objects and furniture pieces regularly. Just like we, as human beings, change over time, our home should adapt similarly. A home provides a place to express ourselves.
JP – I know what you mean, talking about space and how we shape it into a home. When we moved into our house in Haarlem, an old parsonage, we felt there was beauty hiding behind the dilapidated surfaces. We stripped many layers of smoke-stained wallpaper, opened up a wall between kitchen and living room, and placed large patio doors to our garden to create space to breathe and to let in as much daylight as possible. We played a lot with the space, while keeping the home’s original character alive. I love the high ceilings with windows reaching high; even more when they’re open, bringing fresh air and sunlight insight. It completely changes the way the room looks and feels, it gives that sense of space and freedom. Sipping my fresh-ground coffee in the morning sun at our kitchen table gives me that ultimate feeling of home. The simplicity of the moment makes it special; it offers me the opportunity to be wholeheartedly present in that particular moment.
FO – We both mentioned light. Let us talk a bit more about that. Light plays an intrinsic role in the spaces we inhabit. It makes me think of the paintings of the Dutch masters that are famous for this particular Northern light, ‘Hollands Licht’. For example, Johannes Vermeer painted scenes of everyday life, often with a flood of light coming from the window. It gives me a very intimate feeling of home. Often our house is like a canvas of the elements from outside; the light, the wind, the clouds, the shadows of leaves, the reflections of water. From morning to night and from one season to another. I think of a long Sunday morning, when the light reflects in such a lovely manner on the blank walls, the play of reflections of water and the linen curtains blowing in the wind. I love that calming, uplifting and comforting atmosphere.
JP – As two busy adults with active careers and young children, balancing life’s demands can be stressful and time-consuming. It often feels like there is not enough time to really connect with loved ones and the space we live in. The way you mention the ever-changing atmosphere in our homes and to actually see what’s happening, is of great importance in order to connect. It can radically change our experiences; just like smell – we strongly associate it with particular feelings and memories we can’t always express verbally. Music also has this profound experience. It helps us to be more present and aware of whatever is happening around us. I very much cherish the evenings with my husband when picking the right soundtrack to shape our shared mood; whether we’re going for the liveliness of Bossa Nova or the casualness of soul. Usually he grabs his guitar too and we end up singing along. Allowing entertainment in our day-to-day lives makes me happy and more rooted to the place and people around me.
FO – You know, achieving simplicity in a home might be another way to balance our sometimes eclectic, fast and crowded city lives. Keeping our house free of non-essentials makes room for what matters most. Both our houses are characterized by simplicity. Since I was a young child, I have loved my room to be simple and straightforward. No fuss, no unnecessary distractions, nothing that is hidden or absorbs energy. I strive for a certain structure or harmony, as I believe that harmony and balance give clarity, provide space and calmness. It gives room to our senses. For me this harmony is found in composition, clean forms, muted colors and pure materials. In this way our home becomes the place to unwind, relax, to develop and think. Of course, going back to the basics does not exclude decorative objects and personal objects that tell stories.
JP – It reminds me of the lovely words by Leonard Koren: “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” To be essential doesn’t mean that an object strictly needs to be useful or practical. Instead, the purpose of an object also evokes a feeling of serenity or a certain memory. I guess we both strongly celebrate the minimalistic purity in our homes. Perhaps this sense of calmness is inspired by the flat, wide landscape of The Netherlands, with the green polders and sandy coastline — in which both of us love to spend our spare time. These landscapes arouse a sense of serenity, muted tones and airy openness. To me it’s important that the place I live in echoes the same values. It’s the subtle balance of harmony, lightness and imperfections I appreciate. Introducing nature into our home always creates room to unwind and recharge.
FO – I think we could talk for hours about this subject, as it touches many areas and interests. What makes it that we feel at home? What evokes this feeling of home? I think it strongly relates to the senses. You mentioned smell already. How much can we enjoy the smell of a fresh bread, the smell of freshly ground coffee or a home-made pizza? It takes us back to the afternoons that we came home after school,
and our mum had baked her signature cake. Touch is fundamental too. The fresh crispy linen of our bed, the comfortable feeling of our home wear, the touch of a solid oak piece of furniture. Home is the place where our senses can both rest and come alive.
JP – I agree, we could never get bored of this topic. Experiencing the zest for life in our homes is about observing everything more closely, appreciating things that mostly go unnoticed and investing in activities we enjoy and cherish. Despite our appreciation for beauty, I strongly believe our shared view on living isn’t rooted in aestheticism, but rather in a more traditional search for simplicity, inspiration and humility.