Bláha Architecture + Design gives new lease of life to traditional working-class courtyard house in The Hague.
Located in the Archipel area, an urban district primarily laid out in the nineteenth century, the project No.42 Hofje Mallemolen transforms a typical courtyard or ‘hofje’ house from the verge of ruin into a new designed-to-rent home.
The project was commissioned by a private client, attracted by its charming and historically significant location in the Hofje Mallemolen - an architectural typology that emerged behind existing streets to provide the lowest paid people in society with decent housing. By 1895 a quarter of all homes were situated in the city’s 700 courtyards. The Hofje Mallemolen is one of the earliest, most characteristic and best-preserved examples of this type of housing in The Hague.
Named after the seventeenth century mill for grinding and polishing armour and weapons that stood on the site until 1800, the Hofje Mallemolen itself consists of two parallel pedestrian streets of mostly two-storey houses with red tiled roofs and white painted facades built partly back-to-back between 1868 and 1869, designed by J. Jager and S. van Kamp. No.42, along with its neighbours, would have originally been intended to accommodate small-scale artisans, workers and soldiers. Small gardens to the front or rear create continuous green soft edges between the rows.
At 57m2, No. 42 is one of the smallest houses in the hofje, comprising one storey and an attic in the mansard roof. ‘When it was acquired in 2017,’ explains architect Annemieke Bláha ‘the house had been vacant for some time. It was in extremely poor condition. There was a hole in the ceiling with just a ladder for access. The rear doors were boarded up. Rainwater was coming in, the dormer windows were falling apart and the house lacked proper sanitary facilities.’
Bláha Architecture + Design’s idea was to retain the building’s historical appearance on the exterior in line with conservation area guidance but create an updated, hyper modern interior; contrasting old and delightful with new and sharp. The internal walls had already disappeared.
From the outside very little has changed. The brickwork has been restored, roof repaired and glazing replaced with heritage-approved glass supplied by Van Ruysdael. Step inside, however, and the building has been stripped back to its structure. The chimneybreast has been removed to create space and the interior renewed. It has been rewired, walls re-plastered, the floor levelled, insulated, installed with under-floor heating and a new skimmed concrete layer poured on top that offers a smooth rippled-effect finish. The opening to the yard has been enlarged; full-height French doors bring afternoon and evening light into the space.
The primary move architecturally, though, has been to install an 11m-long, 1m-deep cupboard along the length of the house. Closing off the functional spaces and storage, this ensures the main living area is free and flexible. Visitors enter the house within this cupboard wall, the oak tread stair to the upper floor bedroom wraps around the fireplace behind another door. The utility space is beyond, and the kitchen continues into the addition at the back where the opening in the wall lined with a grey composite material becomes the worktop. The cupboard is at once the entrance hall, downstairs WC, fireplace, kitchen and stairwell. Other push-to-open doors hide the television, wardrobe and utility. Overall, materials are restrained to white walls, concrete and oak for the cupboard fronts, selected for its warm yet contrasting appearance.
Upstairs, this approach continues. Although Bláha had originally intended to carry up the cupboard wall, it was not possible due to planning restrictions on changing the position of the dormer window in the rear roof. Instead, it has been rotated 90˚ into the eave of the front wall, closing off an en suite wet room as well as creating wardrobe space. New skylights have been added to the front roof, while a new bench under the rear dormer in the bedroom creates lounge seating and more storage. The space is light and bright, the ceiling opened to the apex. It continues the white wall and grey floor aesthetic of the downstairs - this time using epoxy resin.
Back downstairs in the small rear yard, the design again contrasts with the sharp contemporary interior in favour of a cottage-style garden. Rough boundary walls give a rustic feel and the beds are planted with wild flowers, linking again with the charming historical feel of the traditional hofje.