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...

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...

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