Thuis or At Home in the Netherlands

If you’re thinking about living in the Netherlands, you may wonder what your apartment or house will be like.  I moved as a single person, and an apartment was fine for me initially.  Now that I’m hoping to get something with a bit more space, I’ve been searching for a house to buy.  I’ve learned a lot about the major differences between living spaces in the U.S. and the Netherlands.

  • Space—Typically, one will not find anything comparable to a suburban, center-hall Colonial with space for an office, an exercise room, and a hobby room in the Netherlands.  An apartment typically has an open living, dining, and cooking area and one or two bedrooms.  The second bedroom is usually small.  Most apartments have a balcony.  A house typically has an open living, dining, and cooking space on the ground floor with access to the garden or back yard.  The bedrooms are on the next floor up, and often there is a converted attic above that level with extra bedroom space.  Many Dutch houses have what’s called the bijkeuken, which is an extra utility or storage room near the kitchen.  Dutch backyards or gardens are outfitted as extensions of the living space, sometimes with a covered area and several seating areas.  
  • Steps—Dutch dwellings almost always have steps—either inside to other floors or outside or inside in buildings with multiple dwellings.  Steps can be very steep and narrow, sometimes like a ladder, sometimes circular.  I refused to go up the steps in one apartment I toured, knowing I would never be able to navigate them and laundry (the washing machine was on the top level—another Dutch preference).  Steps in the typical U.S. townhouse are spacious by comparison.
  • Closets—It is rare to find a built-in closet in the Netherlands.  One must purchase closets from IKEA or a similar outlet and build and install them.  However, these closets have organizational features like those for which one would pay thousands of dollars in the U.S.
  • Toilets—The toilet is typically in a separate closet-like room and not a part of the bathroom.  The sink in the toilet room will be very small—think the sink at the dentist’s office—and only have cold water.
  • Kitchens—The Dutch are not known for cooking elaborate meals, and kitchens are smaller than in the U.S. and often not separate rooms.  I’ve found that the cabinets and drawers are very efficiently designed, and I’ve not had a problem finding space to store my kitchen items.  The combi oven, or combination conventional, convection, and microwave oven, is most common, and it is small.  In the U.S., we use a pot called the Dutch oven, and there is a reason that it is named that way.  It was used by the Dutch to cook meat.  Ovens aren’t typically designed for large cuts of meat.  I purchased an extra, larger oven and use the combi only for microwaving.  As with most of Europe, in-sink garbage disposals are not available due to the size of the plumbing.
  • Heating—Dutch homes are heated by radiator.  I pictured noisy radiators that would be hard to regulate, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I’ve grown to like this type of heating.  It’s very quiet without forced air.  The heat is not dry, and I don’t feel like I need to use a humidifier.  Newer houses have thermostats to regulate the temperature, but I also can turn down, up, or off individual radiators.
  • Windows—The typical Dutch home has large windows and plenty of them.  I’ve had great views in all my living quarters and enjoyed the windows.  It’s not as common for people to close their draperies and blinds.  It’s considered normal for people to see what’s going on inside a house.
  • What you get with the house or apartment—You can find dwellings with flooring included called “upholstered” apartments, but it is very common to install your own floors, usually laminate, and remove them when you leave.  You can also negotiate the floors with the former or next tenant if the landlord permits.  An upholstered apartment also has permanent lighting fixtures and window coverings.  An upholstered apartment will cost slightly more. It’s not as common as it is in Germany to have to provide your own kitchen.  I know that providing your own kitchen sounds surprising, perhaps shocking, but the typical IKEA kitchen set up can be installed rather quickly.  If you want your place freshly painted, you’ll typically have to do it yourself.  I would suggest starting out with an upholstered dwelling, if possible.