PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

Take a completely derelict monumental building beside the sea, inhabited by junkies, and then have the nerve to transform it into a home. It certainly takes a good deal of courage and perseverance. Anne-Marieke Holten and Wilfred Hendriksen embarked on the adventure and revivified a monumental villa at the Caribbean coast of Curaçao. For the interior decoration they drew inspiration from Indonesia. Moreover, the transformation was to have even greater consequences – working with Jan Peltenburg, they have injected new life into the Pietermaai Smal area.

It is a narrow strip of coast just outside Curaçao’s capital, Willemstad. It links the Punda district and the eastern part of the island. Until well into the 20th century the area was characterised by stately family homes with imposing entrance forecourts. It used to be a lively neighbourhood, until the decline set in. The houses rapidly fell into disrepair and the area was overrun by ‘chollers’ (the local junkies and alcoholics).

Recently all that changed, thanks to an initiative by Jan Peltenburg, Anne-Marieke Holten and Wilfred Henriksen, to revivify the neighbourhood. They were guided by their appreciation of old, often monumental buildings. They started at Pietermaai Smal, with an ambitious renovation project. Old buildings and ruins have been transformed into dwellings, some of which are intended for tourist accommodation. Their restaurants Ginger and Mundo Bizarro further enhance the local ambience.

The revamp initiative has been a catalyst for change: Pietermaai Smal is gradually turning into one of the island’s liveliest neighbourhoods where the Curaçaoan atmosphere still prevails. Here, at a location beside the Caribbean Sea, Anne-Marieke and Wilfred, and Jan Peltenburg bought two run-down buildings with a view to restoring them. It took five years for the house bought by Anne-Marieke and Wilfred to be completed – and in 2010 they moved in.

Anne-Marieke: “This used to be a residential district and we wanted to restore it to its original use. You often find on this island that grand old houses are renovated and then let as office space. But we wanted to create a bustling quarter. When we bought this building we didn’t intend to live here. Until we realised that if we wanted to liven up the neighbourhood we should live here ourselves.”

A full-scale renovation was to follow in which only the exterior walls remained standing. Everything was renewed within the shell. Since this is a listed building, the original layout had to be retained. It comprised a front veranda, followed by the ‘sala’ or living room. A passage runs through the house from front door to back terrace. Following the ‘sala’ there are various rooms on either side of the passage. In the past the use of those rooms would have depended on the occupants’ requirements, as the family grew, for example. Today they house the kitchen, with the dining room at right angles to it. On the other side of the passage there is a washroom and a sitting area, which is at a slightly higher level and built above the well. In the hall, at one side of the house, a hanging staircase leads to the first floor. That upper floor contains the master bedroom and bathroom, two children’s rooms separated by a large family bathroom – all beneath the exposed roof joists.

Anne-Marieke was responsible for the furnishings: “It was a tremendous job to revamp this building. I was working non-stop and did a lot myself. Everything has had to be tackled and renewed. From the roof to the flooring. It’s a work-in-progress and I’m not sure I’d do it again soon. Indeed, I was responsible for the furnishings. I didn’t want clutter, but definitely sturdy items.”

Take for instance the granite bath – part of the façade had to be pulled down in order to get it inside, and the building’s structure strengthened accordingly. “I saw the bath and just had to have it. I also wanted a concrete kitchen island, but that proved to be too heavy. In Indonesia they managed to devise a unit with concrete-look in keeping with my design. It’s incredible what they’re capable of over there. Much of the furniture for this house was custom made there too.”

All the interior furnishings actually came from Indonesia. “Many people associate Indonesia with dark woods and wood-carvings. But there’s so much more. I travelled around tracking down things for our house and our other projects. It’s great fun: things are literally displayed on the roadside.”