Fewer rooms, lots of space

6 minutes

Rotterdam, Netherlands

How can a young family find peace and quiet in a loft, work undisturbed and at the same time enjoy a lively life together? Hanneke and Wouter's apartment on the harbour in Rotterdam is a fine example of bespoke living: with dividing walls, well defined spaces and a great love of order.

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As soon as Hanneke and Wouter crossed the threshold they knew they'd found their new home. To the left a view of the harbour and river and to the right the façades of the townhouses of Rotterdam. Every inch of the 1,460 sq. ft. (136 sq. metre) flat is flooded with light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. "We were completely bowled over by the transparency and flow of the apartment," says Hanneke. It took them just five minutes to decide to buy the place.

"The best thing about living in a loft is that you can customise your floor plan."

Schiecentrale on Lloydstraat is part of a former power plant that was redeveloped by Robert Winkel from Mei architects and planners. The freelance educationalist and IT consultant had originally been looking for a classic old building – not a raw industrial loft with bare concrete walls and ventilation pipes. But then they remembered their first shared apartment in Gent in Belgium: "As soon as we moved in, we removed all the doors because we love the feel of spaciousness!" The loft was a lucky find, offering limitless scope for design. Interior designer Martijn Sorée channelled the couple's ideas and needs into a bespoke design. With a small budget but many ingenious ideas, he has created a modern family apartment that is almost totally open-plan and yet packed with possibilities for privacy.

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Flexible spaces with thin dividing walls

The sleek Finnish pine panels are multi-functional: they structure the floor plan, serve as a wall for hanging pictures, create storage space and can even be moved about. The ceiling-high bi-fold doors to the children's space, for example, run on ceiling tracks. During the day, the doors are simply folded away. The couple's bedroom is tucked away behind the wooden panels with fanlights in the living area. It consists of a wall of wardrobes and has no windows – the horizontal band of glazing under the ceiling lets in enough natural daylight.

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Recipe for loft life: well-defined living spaces and flowing transitions

There's only one space in the entire apartment that has masonry walls and that's the bathroom. The other areas are open plan – and yet clearly zoned. "We originally wanted to put our bed next to the window. Thankfully, our interior designer convinced us otherwise," says Hanneke. The living zone with the family sofa and long dining table now share the glazed façade; the parents' and children's bedrooms are discreetly hidden by the wooden partitions. The two runs of kitchen units open a passage to the glazed entrance area at the rear of the loft. There is even space for a small desk.

"Bare concrete walls and ventilation pipes: we love the industrial feel combined with the warmth of wood."

Living in a box: how can open plan designs incorporate enough storage?

Loft life teaches discipline. The couple had a big clear out and decluttered their belongings before they moved in. "We got rid of everything we didn't use." Closed walls such as the folding doors to the children's area and the ceiling-high sliding doors to the bathroom and toilet create a visual calm. Having a lot of open space doesn't automatically mean that there's little storage space for utensils: the two runs of kitchen units have very deep drawers which help to keep everything nice and tidy. Bikes and a tumble dryer are concealed in a steel box in front of the apartment door.

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Material basics: How to weave homeliness into an industrial style interior

Large textile surfaces absorb noise, particularly in large spaces. But Hanneke and Wouter decided not to use curtains. "The ceilings are relatively low so the reverberation is not so bad." In addition, the timber construction in the sleeping zone and a large carpet in the entrance area create a warm ambience. The exposed ventilation pipes, bare concrete walls and cast floor in taupe offer a sober contrast to the sofa and the warm metallic hue of the copper lights.

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