One house, one room: Former bridge houses on Amsterdam’s canals and waterways are being turned into hotel rooms.
Enjoying a relaxed breakfast on the terrace of your bridge house in Amsterdam, you may well hear the captain of a passing pleasure boat tell his passengers “That’s a new hotel!” The tourists will then dutifully point their cameras and smartphones, but their faces will express doubt: That tiny sandstone building in the middle of the river, a hotel?
Number 206 Amstelschutsluis (sluis = lock) is not actually a hotel itself, but it belongs to a hotel that’s dotted right across the city. Opened in 2018, the Sweets Hotel consists of 28 bridge houses on or beside the city’s drawbridges and canal locks. For centuries, bridge houses were indispensable to the infrastructure of Amsterdam. When ships or large boats wanted to pass through, the bridgekeepers would stop the street traffic and open the bridge. In that sense, they dictated the rhythm of the city – often to the annoyance of those compelled to wait. In 2004, the city council decided to centralize control of the bridges, which have been operated from an open-plan office ever since, leaving the bridge houses empty. Plenty of suggestions for alternative uses were forthcoming for individual houses, but the city was looking for a solution that would encompass all 28. Then Suzanne Oxenaar came up with the brilliant idea of turning them into hotel rooms. She had previously cofounded the legendary Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam, and now, working alongside two colleagues and the architects at Space & Matter, she developed the concept for the Sweets. Airbnb had not yet gained a foothold in Amsterdam, and the idea of the bridge houses bringing tourists to more remote areas of the city met with the city council’s wholehearted approval. Oxenaar and her associates were awarded the contract and have been converting the houses into double rooms ever since.
Room 301, close to the central railway station, offers guests views of modern Amsterdam and the futuristic film institute.
Located in the vibrant west of the city, Number 307 is within easy walking distance of many restaurants, bars
and a trendy indoor market. The atmosphere inside? It’s like being on a spaceship that’s about to touch down
on the water.
There are now 18 in which guests can already spend the night, and by 2021, all 28 should be ready for bookings. The reason the project is taking so long to complete is that a time period of at least four months is required to transform each house into a welcoming, uniquely designed suite. Instead of furnishing them in a uniform style, the team aims to adapt the decor to each building’s particular architecture. In number 207 Nieuwe Amstelbrug (brug = bridge), a square brick building dating from 1912, for instance, colored glass and copper lamps create a mellow light. In number 204, Hortusbrug, an airy pavilion built in Le Corbusier style, handmade wooden blinds, not drapes, shield guests from the unwanted gaze of passersby. The interior furnishings are also in the Bauhaus look, thanks among other things to the blue-and-red Gerrit Rietveld chair – an original. Although hardly bulky, the famous chair takes up almost a quarter of the room.
Located on the edge of the popular Jordaans district and close to the Anne Frank House, this gem of a brick bridge house dates from the 1950s.
But then, space is generally at a premium in most of the bridge houses. The smallest of them measures just 10.5 square meters – and that doesn’t make its conversion any easier. Each of the often listed buildings calls for its own customized concept. Number 103 on Buiksloterdraaibrug in the north of the city, for example, is a brick cube topped with windows on all sides that was built in 1984. Open the front door’s electronic lock with the Flexipass app and you almost walk into a wall of wooden bars. Behind it, the bathroom doubles as a kitchen, depending on which side of the washbasin you stand. Surely a little too close for comfort for coworkers on a business trip, but despite the lack of space, the little luxuries – coffee maker, fridge – are there. It’s just perhaps better to pay more attention to keeping things tidy than you would in a conventional hotel room. From a reclining position on the generously proportioned and very comfortable bed, the room does, however, look far brighter and airier than a standard hotel room of the same size. Folding chairs are hidden beneath the bed for visitors to use out on the lakeside patch of grass belonging to the house. Bicycles whiz across the bridge by the minute; a heron displays its aerobatic prowess, skimming the water as it sails, wings outstretched, below the roadway. You soon get why the bridgekeepers weren’t happy to give up their picturesque workplaces.
This charming building on the Amstelschutsluis lock is the most spectacular of all the Sweets rooms. Built in 1673, it can only be reached by boat.
Even if the bridge houses are now reserved for guests only, some are still equipped with fully functioning (but secured) control panels. Take house number 206, prominently positioned on a lock in the middle of the Amstel River. If the computer control system failed, a bridgekeeper could open the lock manually in an emergency. For the guests, the levers are merely a reminder that their (temporary) domicile was once a workplace, even though no other trace remains. By the way, of all these romantic bridge houses, number 206 is the one with the biggest wow factor: Built in 1673, it is also the oldest – and due to its location, only accessible via the hotel’s motorboat service. But you won’t want to leave again anyway once you’ve made the crossing. The 24 square meters provide almost ample space for two: Shower and lavatory are separate and the kitchen has a stove and even a dishwasher. You can sit in the sun on every side, and a long jetty leads to another platform that’s perfect for sunbathing or opening a bottle of champagne at sunset. The view is Instagram gold: From the kitchen, you can see the wooden Magere Brug, the Carré Theater and the canal houses leaning into each other. From the bed, you can see the Amstelhotel, an old grand hotel, and away in the distance, the bright tip of the ancient Montelbaans Tower. With a little luck, a ship will arrive that’s too big for the Hogelsluis lock. Then a signal will sound, bringing traffic to a halt – and if you now lean over the control panel, you can almost feel the power held by the old lockkeepers: Open sesame!
Built in the Classic Modernist style, this tiny downtown bridge house dates from 1956. Its overhanging terrace appears to hover above the canal.
Great prospects: Amsterdam’s top seven bridge houses
4 Nieuwe Amstelbrug
A Central Station