PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

The building can be found in an alleyway in the very heart of Amsterdam’s historic center. Behind the classical façade, the Swiss designer, architect and artist, Heinz Julen, transformed a jumble of small rooms into a comfortable house for a Swiss couple.

He removed as many interior walls as possible and combined various living functions to create a sense of space. That feeling is further reinforced by the shades of white used on the walls and ceilings. On the ground floor Julen opened his flagship store, presenting his emblematic industrial chic creations.

He was born in the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt, where, at an early age, he opened his first design studio. His love of art and design led him to start his own gallery when he was only twenty. There he displayed his own work, as well as that of others. Some fifteen years later he acquired international renown with his Cube Chair. His products have quite a sturdy character: sturdiness combined with sophisticated detailing. The best way to describe his style is ‘industrial chic’. It makes a strong, industrial impression and is based on sound craftsmanship.

The products are made from robust materials including walnut and stainless steel. Julen produces his furniture in Zermatt’s old railway station, which he converted into a workshop and studio. This is a location that inspires him. Every item leaving that former railway station is unique and hand-made.

At the end of 2011 he spread his wings to Amsterdam, where he set up a brand store in the Molsteeg, naming it ‘the spirit of Zermatt’. The store is on the ground floor of an old building, the upper floors of which he transformed into a comfortable pied-à-terre for compatriots of his.

In the brand store Nicole Rietveld puts Julen’s philosophy into practice. “In view of the great demand for this design, we decided the time was ripe for a branch in the Benelux. And where else but Amsterdam?”, according to Nicole, who has known Heinz since her years of snowboarding in Zermatt. She also worked in the railway station studio there.

Sustainability is the key focus of his creations, be they hotels, chairs, desks or lamps. That is not only evident in the materials he uses, but also in the designs themselves. For example, Julen has designed a chandelier made from bicycle parts, from bell to chain. “I hope to be an example in prolonging a product’s life”, he explains.

In his capacity as architect Heinz Julen has designed and decorated several hotels in the winter-sports paradise, Zermatt, including Backstage Hotel and Coeur des Alpes. The house in Amsterdam where he presents his artistic creations was built in the 18th century. It is in a lane called Molsteeg in the very heart of the city center, very close to the Royal Palace on Dam Square. As is the case with many houses of that period, it comprises a typically Dutch front and back house. It is wedged between their neighbors. The actual premises are not very large, but consist of three storeys plus an attic. The original architecture was inspired by the Grand Canal houses which were built in the Golden Age (17th century) to which Amsterdam still owes much of her fame. The Molsteeg is located at a right angle to the canals; smaller houses were built in such lanes to accommodate local artisans.

Unlike most of the houses in the Amsterdam canal belt, this house was not built with pile foundations, having been virtually wedged between other houses. The original building had a cellar, but that has meanwhile made way for a sound foundation. Over time, the interior architecture has undergone several changes. For instance, a small courtyard was replaced by a staircase to the first floor with a skylight placed on top of that addition. In 2012 Heinz Julen’s flagship store was located on the ground floor and the designer transformed the upper part into a small, but ingeniously arranged dwelling.

The first floor now contains the living room with the dining area at the back, as well as a small kitchen. A narrow spiral staircase leads to the bedroom-cum-bathroom. He has had to juggle with the space here. The bed Julen designed occupies a prominent position; behind it there is a washbasin, the bathroom itself is in a corner. Behind the bed a narrow staircase leads to the attic, where another functional space has been created under the rafters.