FROM SOBRIETY, SUR­PRISE

The in­ven­tive spirit of Dutch de­sign is on full dis­play at Am­s­ter­dam’s Con­ser­va­to­rium Ho­tel.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT ADE­LINE LOH

Revel in the sub­tle lux­u­ri­ous­ness and in­ven­tive spirit of Dutch de­sign at Am­s­ter­dam’s Con­ser­va­to­rium Ho­tel.

The Dutch, it’s said, aren’t afraid to be nor­mal, be­cause for them, “nor­mal” is “strange enough”. I ex­pe­ri­ence this world­view first-hand when my as­signed host, Wes Viana Fer­reiro at Am­s­ter­dam’s Con­ser­va­to­rium Ho­tel, of­fers me a choco­late bar from Dutch brand Tony’s. He tells me that, un­like most choco­late bars with even sec­tions, this one is de­signed with un­even bits, be­cause that’s how the world ac­tu­ally is – which is to say, ir­reg­u­lar and un­ex­pected.

That choco­late bar is a mi­cro rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ho­tel it­self. To be sure, the his­toric fa­cade that passers-by see from the street, in the heart of the city’s Mu­se­umplein dis­trict, hides cut­ting-edge de­sign that com­bines veg­e­ta­tion with steel; bricks with glass; and arches and mo­saics with in­dus­trial beams. The stun­ning blend of these dis­parate el­e­ments has helped es­tab­lish the fiveyear-old Con­ser­va­to­rium as a lead­ing lux­ury ho­tel in the Nether­lands – the choice of A-lis­ters like Madonna, Ri­hanna and Justin Bieber.

The eclec­tic in­te­rior of the ho­tel re­flects its evo­lu­tion, which started at the end of the 19th cen­tury when Dutch ar­chi­tect Daniel Knut­tel de­signed the neo-gothic build­ing that forms the ho­tel’s core. Tiles fea­tur­ing bees and hives along pas­sage­ways point to its postal bank be­gin­nings, while a clus­ter of hang­ing vi­o­lins at the en­trance of the his­toric wing marks its in­car­na­tion as a mu­sic con­ser­va­tory in 1983.

In 2008, Mi­lanese ar­chi­tect Piero Lis­soni was brought in to trans­form the build­ing into a ho­tel. He in­tro­duced a multi-storey glass atrium, and a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic to its 129 guest rooms – in­ject­ing el­e­ments of space and light that char­ac­terise con­tem­po­rary de­sign.

I arrive to the sight of a bronze statue of Miff y, a pop­u­lar Dutch rab­bit char­ac­ter, adorn­ing the en­trance. The lobby, housed within the mod­ern glass atrium, is dubbed the “living room of Am­s­ter­dam” for its stylish, laid-back am­bi­ence and its pop­u­lar­ity as a lo­cal hang­out. Here, well-heeled guests lounge on low seats, flanked by a line of trees that brings the out­doors into the space.

The ho­tel as­signs a host to ev­ery guest upon ar­rival to help cre­ate a be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ence of the city. The ge­nius of the ser­vice is clear: As soon as I check in, I can im­me­di­ately opt for a walk to Am­s­ter­dam’s Nine Streets, a de­sign-cen­tric neigh­bour­hood full of quirky shops, with my host Fer­reiro.

While ad­mir­ing pic­turesque views of canals, I dis­cover why the Dutch are in­clined to de­fine lux­ury along the lines of in­no­va­tion, and not merely op­u­lence. “The Dutch are not very emo­tional peo­ple,” he ex­plains. “We don’t re­ally like to flaunt our wealth. We be­lieve in living an hon­est, mod­est life, with noth­ing to hide.”

The cre­ative side of that spirit is on full dis­play at the ho­tel’s flag­ship restau­rant. The Asian-in­spired Taiko matches min­i­mal­ism with dra­matic flair, fea­tur­ing ceil­ing-high shelv­ing and eclec­tic Ja­panese sake, pot­tery and art­work. The swanky Tunes Bar, mean­while, fea­tures Lis­soni’s sig­na­ture trans­par­ent de­sign and folded steel stair­case. With both es­tab­lish­ments headed by cel­e­brated Dutch chef Schilo van Co­evor­den, who’s known for his cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion of global cuisines, they’re fast be­com­ing hotspots in Am­s­ter­dam’s culi­nary scene.

While await­ing my flight at Am­s­ter­dam’s Schiphol Airport, I catch sight of Dutch de­signer Maarten Baas’ Real Time in Lounge 2. Hung from the ceil­ing, the 3m-high time­keeper shows a handy­man paint­ing the min­utes be­hind a translu­cent dial. It’s a film pro­jec­tion, but looks re­mark­ably real. I’m once again re­minded of the power of Dutch de­sign: To turn the or­di­nary into the ex­tra­or­di­nary and to put a smile on your face.

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