Leiden is a university town just south of Amsterdam. It would be the next stop from Schiphol Airport by train, full of medieval spires and cobble-stoned alleys that meander through a number of canals around this ancient city of learning and cathedrals. It is where royalty sends their children to be educated, and famously, the home of Rembrandt who was born here in 1606.
Gerry Montanus and Pamela Manuel met in Leiden twenty-five years ago, and they have been together on a wonderful ride ever since. Gerry, who is Dutch and a former senior partner for a venture capital group in London, and Pamela who hails from the beach town of Asturias, commutes between their home in Cebu, their summer home in Portugal, and Leiden, regularly.
Their house in Leiden is located in a nice neighborhood, on a quiet street that hides the River Rijn behind, which adds considerable premium to the real estate value. The tri-level was the model unit and was built as the architect’s home. “Although the house was very contemporary at the time we moved in, it shined with the gizmos of the eighties – glass blocks, curves everywhere and the use of a lot of steel, giving the house an industrial but somewhat cold feel, “Gerry relates. A decade or two later, Gerry and Pamela stopped their itinerant lifestyle – the Boston to London to Shanghai circuit, when he made a decision to semi-retire. It was time to take stock of where they were going to live, and the Leiden home was their first consideration – sell this town home and move to a grand house befitting a retired couple? It took a good year before they decided to renovate. The decision was made easier by the fact that they met an interior designer from Amsterdam that they liked. Bertel Grote, a co-partner in the design firm of Grand Johnson, was in Portugal for a project, and instantly, Gerry recognized the design palette he was familiar with. The firm’s vision is to create “a stage that makes it possible to feature the homeowner’s taste, minimalist yet rich, spectacular yet sober”.
The townhouse is 200 square meters, and the interior was wholly gutted during the renovation. Bertel opened up the kitchen and the living area, creating a spacious luxury upon entrance. He also introduced a new façade at the back of the house with glass doors and dormer windows. “A nice design element is the solution they made to hide the big TV. There was an old convector heater in the ground which wasn’t used anymore, a perfect place to hide the TV. With a remote control it comes out of the floor. When its not in use, it goes down and they can enjoy the river view,” Bertel notes. “Gerry fills our homes with whatever he sees in the Bang and Olufsen store,” Pamela laughingly adds. Using a square column, the new layout cleverly created a streamlined fireplace insert to divide two living areas, which is unified by a wide custom-made black pony-skin rug. Bertel also created a rectangular alcove just off the dining room to house Gerry’s most prized possession – a first edition of a travel book on Japan written by a distant descendant in 1669, Arnoldus Montanus, while quietly hanging in a far corner is a Picasso sketch. Dominating the entire main floor of course is the scenic view of the water and boats that quietly glide from end to end.
The second level had three bedrooms, and the new redo created a master suite with huge glass openings to the river view below, and a home office. The third floor contains the guest room with its own bathroom and an extra room currently used as storage for the owners art collection. Throughout the house, the unvarying palette of black and white is carried with bold confidence.
Finally moving in after seven months of renting while the construction was ongoing, Gerry and Pamela’s patience paid off with a brand new nest that fits their new lifestyle. During the summer months, the long outdoor area is the perfect for lounging or taking out Gerry’s wood-hauled boat. During the winter months, the fireplace is lit, and the view is gray outside, but the house is cozy and warm. The transformation is done.
by Eva C. Gullas photography Tessa Francesca