The loss of a job was less of a calamity and more of a stroke of good fortune, nudging this little family into an adventure and a new life afloat
Meet and greet
Bregje Geurtsen, co-owner of a vintage shop-come-health cafe, Nick van der Schalie, consultant, and Fee, 6, plus cats Nanna and Lotje
On board an adventurous family’s little houseboat
Sometimes tough breaks can lead to exciting adventures – when her partner, Nick, lost his job, designer Bregje Geurtsen realised she wasn’t too keen on her work either. Instead of continuing to scrape by in their tiny 40-square-metre apartment in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, the pair decided to take their three-year-old daughter, Fee, on a big adventure around southeast Asia.
“We decided it was the perfect timing for a trip to Asia because Fee was not yet at school,” says Bregje. “I quit my job, we gave notice at our apartment, and off we went to China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bali. We had a wonderful journey that lasted six months. It really gave me the inspiration to find new goals in my life.”
With their horizons newly expanded and priorities rearranged, the family returned home and pondered their next step. Little did they realise that their adventure wasn’t quite over yet and an entirely different kind of home and a brand-new worklife awaited them.
“While searching for somewhere to live, we stumbled on this houseboat on the edge of a lake in Den Bosch [in the southern Netherlands]. I’d always dreamed of a farm-like home and this came very close: the natural surroundings, the water, the fact we could have a little vegetable garden, and there was enough space for the three of us. We didn’t think twice,” says Bregje.
The compact, 80-square-metre home is a haven of ‘mid-century modern’ style and Bregje’s expert eye for vintage furniture and objects has seen their home evolve into an oasis of natural fibres and warm wood.
“We have been living here for three years and the interior has grown slowly into what it looks like today,” she says. “Most of our furniture is vintage or handmade. I don’t think there is anything in our house that was bought new; everything is secondhand.”
A new direction
Decorating her new home allowed Bregje to realise her love of interiors and passion for the design of the 1960s and ’70s. As she bought and sold vintage furniture online, her talent for unearthing treasures led to an epiphany.
“I really enjoyed searching the internet and going to markets and thrift stores to find vintage items. Being so busy with that, one thing led to another and, before I knew it, I had my own website selling vintage furniture.”
While decorating the houseboat, Bregje also found herself drawn to the craft of macramé. “I decided to sell some of the pieces I had made, and because some of them were plant hangers, I thought it would be a nice idea to sell plants as well. By that time, I was occasionally hiring a stall at markets and fairs to sell my stuff. People started suggesting I should open my own shop.”
The living area forms the heart of this unique home and is filled with vintage treasures and souvenirs from the family’s adventures. Everything has been found or made or both – the lampstand is vintage while the lampshade was hand-knotted by Bregje.
A water buffalo skull from Bali adorns one wall, while a palm lives in a pot found in an op-shop. A typesetter’s case on the floor contains shells discovered on their trip through Asia. “My favourite spot in this room is definitely sitting on our sofa and looking out over the water, just contemplating life,” says Bregje.
The living room wall is adorned with a large macramé hanging which showcases Bregje’s craftsmanship. She estimates this piece took her 12-15 hours to make. “The knotting itself is not very difficult, but creating the design is the biggest challenge,” she says.
Bregje and Nick’s bedroom is a prime example of their foraged and crafted aesthetic. The bed is a handmade construction composed of nine wooden pallets and is flanked by vintage wooden nightstands.
Hanging above the bed is a metal peacock, another of Bregje’s macramé wall hangings and a drawing by their daughter, Fee. The floor is decorated with two felted rugs made from sheep’s wool by Bregje.
The rattan ‘peacock’ chair by the window is Bregje’s favourite item of all. “It represents my taste and makes me think of Bali,” she says.
Despite the modest size of their floating home, Bregje has still managed to carve out a work area where she can catch up on emails and produce her macramé creations. The space reflects their lakeside environment with feathers, stones and plants from the area decorating her vintage desk.
She uses found and secondhand materials in her business, keeping a collection of different sizes and lengths of cord and rope handy for her macramé.And those suggestions people made about Bregje starting a shop? Last October, they turned into reality when she opened an interiors store and cafe with her business partner Larissa.
Peace of paradise
As a result of making the bold choice to quit city life and see the world, this little family set themselves on a path to a richer kind of compact living, one that’s in touch with nature and filled with the textures of the outdoors.
Making a home on a houseboat has led Bregje to a new career and her family loves their “peaceful” life on the water. But who knows? Maybe one day they’ll unmoor their house and drift away on a new adventure.
Words by: Mieke Vendel. Photography by: Peggy Janssen.