Hearth & soul
Each Christmas, Peet and Ruud’s family and friends gather in their warm and welcoming Dutch farmhouse to toast the completion of a remarkable renovation
It’s taken Peet and Ruud Schreuder 35 years to renovate their rural farmhouse in the Netherlands. Now, they can enjoy the fruits of their labour with rustic family Christmases every year
Christmasis a particularly special time of year for Peet and Ruud Schreuder, who host a regular festive family gathering at their farmhouse in North Brabant in the Netherlands. ‘ We both come from large families, with nine siblings each,’ Peet explains, ‘and they all helped us throughout the renovation of our home.’
Every year she decorates the house with handmade garlands and wreaths, which she creates from natural materials gathered from their garden or in the local woods (learn how to make similar decorations on page 131). ‘ We don’t do much during these festive days, just lots of eating, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Our children and grandchildren join in too, so you can imagine the crowd.’ Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for all three generations in their rambling, 18th- century farmhouse.
Peet and her husband Ruud were young and unmarried when they first saw the property. ‘Ruud and I grew up in nearby villages and often came this way. We thought it was a lovely old place and one day, 35 years ago, we simply knocked on the door to ask if we could rent the property.’ The door was opened by a very old man who told them to consult his brother who, in turn, sent them on their way. ‘It wasn’t for sale or for rent,’ says Peet, ‘so we left it at that and got on with our lives. Then, over a year later, we got a phone call asking if we were still interested.’
They were, even though there was no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, ‘not much of anything really,’ recalls Peet. ‘Ruud moved in on his own and started fixing the bare necessities and, after a year of hard work, with the help of many of our family members, the house was ready enough. So we got married and I moved in as well.’ Despite
all their help, both sides of the family often told the couple they were crazy to have taken on such a project. Peet admits that she sometimes wonders whether or not they would have gone ahead if they had realised how much work it would actually entail. ‘But we didn’t,’ she laughs. ‘ We just started improving the place that was to be our family home.’
Incredibly, they managed this on a tiny budget alongside their day jobs and caring for three children. ‘Renovating our home became a way of living,’ she says simply, and it’s clear that Peet cherishes the memories of those days. ‘I particularly remember my mother making a large pan of fried rice or noodles every Saturday for all the hard workers. My father always delivered the food my mother made, with a big smile on his face.’ They still have the pan and use it frequently.
‘Because we did everything ourselves, it really has taken us a lifetime to get where we are today.’ But while others might have been driven mad by the slow pace of progress, Ruud and Peet were happy to work ‘slowly and steadily’, not least because they were determined to remain true to the history and traditions of the house and its surroundings. ‘ We only used old building materials that were given to us by family and friends, or o ered to us by friendly neighbours or that we bought from other farms nearby.’ When they had to rebuild something, they always tried to use traditional techniques.
The house as it is today is ample reward for all their hard work and patience. ‘ We achieved all this with limited resources,’ says Peet, ‘but we really put our souls into it, so when you are looking at the farmhouse, you are actually looking at us.’
Just as with the fabric of the building, the interior decoration is also the result of many years spent gathering items and furniture from family and friends, or trawling flea markets and charity shops. Peet is never happier than when she is making something new out of ABOVE Despite their charity- shop origins, the glasses, crockery and cutlery complement each other and look festive and inviting FACING PAGE The rough beams and old ladders are all that remain of the dining room’s previous incarnation as a stable with a hayloft above. Although the
oor tiles look original, they came from a relative in exchange for a bottle of whisky and a bunch of owers. The dining table is the centre of festivities each Christmas and Peet decorates it with simple glass baubles, candles, sprigs of spruce and pine cones
The interior decoration is the result of years spent gathering items and furniture from flea markets and charity shops
something old. ‘I love to reuse old things and then refurbish them to my own style and taste,’ she says. ‘It has become trendy now, but for me it always came naturally. I guess you can call it a way of life.’ But much as Peet likes hunting for vintage items and pieces to upcycle, she is not above the occasional visit to high-street stores. ‘Sometimes you have to buy new things,’ she says, ‘and then I go to Ikea or Via Cannella, my favourite store in Cuijk.’
During the winter months, the couple spend a lot of time in the living room with its original fireplace, which they found while removing wall panels. ‘In earlier days, the fire was lit directly on the hearthstone, and at first we did the same, but it never felt safe with all the woodwork around us,’ says Peet. They’ve since installed a woodburning stove.
Now that the renovation is complete and their children have left home, Peet and Ruud have started running the house as a bed and breakfast. ‘ We wanted to share the beauty of the house and its surroundings,’ she says and, rather like the lengthy renovation that preceded it, their new venture ensures the house is always filled with people.
I love to reuse old things and then refurbish them to my own style. It has become trendy, but for me it always came naturally
ABOVE The Christmas tree, with stylish white and silver baubles, stands next to an antique cupboard that Peet and Ruud bought before they were married. Peet painted it greengrey, a colour she mixed herself. She gathers greenery from the garden to arrange along the top
ABOVE LEFT The staircase came from a nearby farmhouse and was adjusted by Ruud. Peet made the garland while the pots came from a ea market ABOVE RIGHT The large painting after Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is by Julio Ghiorzi. Peet had a loan agreement with a local art library, but loved the work so much that she bought it