Since we have been exploring many facets of daily life in The Netherlands, it seems only fitting to talk about the place that we spend a majority of our daily lives, our home. There are several types of homes one might find here. There are apartments, some of which might be quite large and span several floors, row houses (the houses that look identical and share walls on either side forming a long row of houses), houses that look like free standing homes but are actually 2 houses that share a wall (think duplex) and stand alone homes. Within each of these categories, you can find many variations and floor plans (even within homes that look identical or are part of a row of houses), but there are a few common features that one can find in many homes.
- Dutch Stairs a.k.a. steep stairs– The Dutch are well known for their incredibly steep and narrow stairs-some curved, some straight up. Luckily, we have regular wide stairs in our home, but many of our friends have to contend with the steep stairs and mishaps are frequent. Several of our friends have had injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to broken arms. Of course the reason for the steep stairs is frequently space-houses here are more likely to be narrow but tall and homes are often compact so a steep stair allows for maximizing of floor space.
- Living Room Doors– In Dutch homes, the entry way is frequently cut off from the living room by a door. At first, I found this very strange and didn’t love the look of it, but sometimes it is actually nice to be able to cut off the sounds from the living room to the rest of the house. I believe the original intent was to keep the living room warmer by shutting it off from the entry way.
- Tiny Guest Bath– Most homes have a tiny guest bath with only a toilet and tiny sink featuring cold water only. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this would be desirable. Our guest bath is not tiny but I have seen some that are incredibly narrow and barely have any room between the sink and the toilet. Of course, it is possible to install a bigger sink but given the size of the bathroom, it wouldn’t be very practical. I am not a fan of the cold water only policy.
- Shelf Toilet– While we are on the subject of bathrooms, let’s talk about the shelf toilet. If you have never heard of this or seen one, it is essentially a toilet bowl that is not just a round open bowl as Americans are accustomed to but rather has a flat area to the back of the bowl and a small hole in the front. If you are thinking to yourself that this means that what is defecated will just sit on the flat part until flushing, you have just hit the nail on the head as to the purpose of the shelf toilet. Apparently, the Dutch used to use this as a means to give their health a little check every day by making sure things looked normal. I have had friends with shelf toilets in their home-they did not love it. We, thankfully, do not have any.
- The Tiny Room– In almost every house that we looked at before moving, there was what we dubbed the tiny room. There would be a master and at least one bedroom of adequate size and then a room that was so small it was unfathomable as to what it could even be used for. In our home, we have a room that is much smaller than the others though it is still of a size large enough to have a function which for us is the office.
- Basements Sadly, we don’t have one, but many homes do. They can range in size from a small walk-in space that can accommodate some pantry storage to larger areas for storage or a small workshop to full rooms that might be used as rec rooms or a bedroom.
- Windows Without Coverings. So, folklore has it that the Dutch used to be taxed based on how many windows they had. In an attempt to have plenty of light in their homes but pay less tax, the Dutch began putting large windows in the homes instead of many small ones. Today, these windows often feature windowsills with decorations that seem to be meant for any passersby rather than the homeowner. In addition, windows often have no coverings. Many of our neighbors have large windows with no coverings that look in on their kitchens. As we walk by their house, you can see them (from a very close range) cooking and eating. There have been a few uncomfortable moments when our gazes have met, but for the most part, being Dutch means you must become adept at looking without looking (or without being noticed anyway). And lest you think that you can just put up blinds and curtains and never open them, there have been several instances in The Netherlands of neighbors calling the police on a neighbor who always has their windows closed up because they believe drugs are being grown or some other unfavorable activities are taking place. We have blinds and curtains on most of our windows (we really need them on the bedroom windows for the summer months when the sun is up until 11 at night) but the curtains on our hallway windows and our living room and kitchen windows are very sheer and we open our blinds regularly.
- Wardrobes Instead of Closets– Now there are some homes with walk-in closets although they look a little different than the ones in the US and there are some with small closets built into the wall with sliding or folding style doors, but it is quite common to just use wardrobes to store clothing. We only have wardrobes in our home.
- No Air Conditioning and No Central Heat– Most homes in The Netherlands do not have air conditioning. In some homes, you will find room units mounted on the wall, but for the most part, people open windows and use fans. Plus, up until recent years, it generally didn’t get that hot in the summer. Now, we have had several weeks that have been really warm which makes the fan alone insufficient in tackling the heat. We also do not have central heat but use radiators or floor heating instead. The radiators are actually quite warm and the air does not seem as dry in the house using them versus the central air. The radiators can also be quite useful in drying clothes. Now, some homes do have what mimics central heating in that you have a unit with a thermostat to adjust temperature but this just controls the turning on and off of the radiators or floor heat rather than pumping warm air through the house through vents and ducts.
- Small Yards– Here, the yard is referred to as the garden. Now, if you live in a country house, you are going to have a large property. Also, several stand alone homes can have a decent sized yard. But for the most part, homes have very small gardens. Or at least, by many American standards, they are very small. I will note that it seems you can get used to small space and eventually can find it decent sized, though it is nothing compared to what you are used to, as we have found ourselves deeming some yards quite adequate when they would be tiny compared to what we were accustomed to in the US . Many gardens feature turf rather than grass, a shed ranging from quite small to rather large, a seating or dining area and maybe some plants. Some homes also have a small trampoline which is often just feet off the ground and a small pool (think soaking pool).
- Small Appliances– I know that anyone familiar with International House Hunters has probably seen the small appliances that many European homes feature. It is true that our refrigerator and oven are small. Not all homes have small refrigerators, although it is fairly common. Some people do have “American” sized ovens, but by far, most people I know have a small oven. Some of my friends complain that they can’t even cook a turkey for Thanksgiving because it won’t fit in their oven. Our dishwasher and microwave are probably a little smaller too but nothing too noticeable. Again, it’s one of those things that I think you just get used to and learn to adapt to.
- Drains– Okay guys, this one is gross. The drains in our showers have a little basket or cylinder piece that catches hair. It has to be regularly cleaned out. If it gets too full, some of the hair will go down into a little overflow drain area where the excess and a little water sits. This is disgusting, and I often feel like I might vomit in the course of cleaning it out. We aren’t sure who came up with this design, but this is one thing I really think the Dutch missed the mark on. And while we are on the subject of cleaning out drains, Dutch homes do not have garbage disposals so while we try to scrape most food scraps into our green recycle bin, some things still go into the drain trap which needs to be cleaned out when we are done washing up. Also a bit gross.
- Ventilation System– Most Dutch homes have some sort of ventilation system to combat mildewing. The system essentially sucks the moisture out of the air and filters out “polluted” air from the home replacing it with external air. There are several different types of systems ranging from a mechanical unit to actual vents above windows, but one complaint many people have is that they feel like the systems cause there to be more dust in the homes here than what they are used to in other countries. I have not really noticed this with our system. Much like a central air system, the unit in our home requires us to clean or change filters periodically.
So there you have it-the ins and outs of the Dutch home. While these features can be found in many homes, it is actually quite fun to see the unique features and layout of the homes once you are inside. And let’s be real, with all those big open windows, you might not even need to be invited in to check it out!