Thursday, 17 September 2015




This week for Throwback Thursday I am harking back to both my past and Amsterdam’s. When I visited Amsterdam two years ago, on my Must Do List were Amsterdam’s famous canal house museums. While it is possible to find incredibly preserved historical houses throughout the world (and indeed right here in Toronto), Amsterdam’s canal houses are special. These well-preserved houses from the 16th and 17th centuries, Holland’s Golden Age, take visitors back to a time when Dutch ships ruled the seas and Dutch financiers loaned money to European governments.

What I love most about Dutch canal house museums is that from the front they look exactly like their neighbours, and you could easily walk by them without knowing what treasures lay behind their doors. I also love how these canal houses, like any historic house museums, allow you to be transported back in time.

Museum Willet-Holthuysen, situated on the Herengracht Canal. Source

First on the agenda for my whirlwind day was the Museum Willet-Holthuysen. The house was built in the late 17th century and was acquired in 1855 by the parents of Louisa Holthuysen. In 1858, upon her father's death, Louisa inherited the house. Three years later she married Abraham Willet, and today the couple lend their names to the museum.

This house was the domain of a wealthy, social, and cosmopolitan couple. Abraham was, as was popular at the time, an amateur collector and dealer in antiquities and art. The house reflects this, for it contains what Abraham apparently called his ‘antique room’, which held his collection and served as a meeting place for him and his connoisseur friends. My favourite room in the house was the conservatory, which overlooks the garden. This would have been used by Louisa as a tea-room and would have been even more stunning than it is today (the museum hopes to restore the room to its former glory shortly).

The Conservatory at Museum Willet-Holthuysen. Photo Credit: Kate Seally. 

Next up, there was just enough time for a peek into Museum Van Loon before my friends came to find me. While the house was built in 1672 and hosted a series of occupants, it was bought in 1884 by the venerable Van Loon family who later became the final occupants of the house and the founders of the museum. The Van Loons had arrived in Amsterdam in the early 17th century and were involved in such endeavours as the Dutch East India Company. To hear a Van Loon talk about the house and to see some of the interiors click here.

The garden at Museum Van Loon, facing the Coach House. Photo Credit: Kate Seally.

But no matter how much I may love these beautiful canal house museums, they raise some important questions. How practical is it to try and recreate private homes? What do you do if multiple owners had the house set up differently (as is often the case)?

Check out the museums’ websites, and add them to your bucket list! (A third canal house I visited in Amsterdam)

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