Monday, February 22, 2021

The Beautiful but Curious Houses of the Netherlands

Sherri Stewart

One of my favorite pastimes is to visit the places in my books, which leaves me cash and possession-poor but experience rich. For me the Netherlands was the most pleasant surprise for the beauty of its countryside, its colorful markets that take over the towns’ center every Saturday morning, and its evenings when it seems every Nederlander is out enjoying a meal and a chat with their neighbors. Indeed, the streets are so full of locals that it’s hard to find a place to walk on the sidewalks. And one would be an idiot to walk in the streets with the plethora of bicycles zooming by. However, my greatest delight was seeing the cities’ picturesque but curious houses and buildings

Every street in Amsterdam and Haarlem looks like a beautiful postcard, with its tall, slender, houses crammed together along the canals. What were they thinking? According to Expat Info Holland, in the seventeenth century, it became very stylish to own property on the canals, so developers built as many houses as they could squeeze together. Can we relate in America at the new developments going up in the suburbs? Back to Holland—and by the way, Holland is a province (like a state) rather than the name of its country, so we need to call it the Netherlands. Houses were taxed by the width of their sidewalks, which is why their houses are narrow at ground level but wider on the upper floors.

How do you build a house that’s wider on the upper floors? You tilt them forward. So most historical houses in Amsterdam lean toward the street, some so much so that they look like they might topple over. What were they thinking? Though these Grandes Dames tilt, they’ve weathered many a century, so pedestrians are safe, I think. One thing you’ll notice are cantilevers with large hooks and pulleys hanging form the upper floors. These are used to lift furniture and supplies to the upper levels, so beware of dangling pianos!

With a narrow house, you have to live upstairs, and most are four floors high. In fact, the ground level may have originally been used for a business, such as a dry cleaner or a watch shop, as was the case of Corrie ten Boom’s house on the Barteljorisstraat—that’s the name of her street. The kitchen would be on the second floor, the living room would be on the third, and the bedrooms and single bath would be on the top floor. Imagine having to run to the fourth floor to use the bathroom! And the stairs are so narrow and steep that I was afraid of falling. My shoes extended way past the steps and sometimes slanted downwards.

Another lovely but curious feature of the houses in Amsterdam are the large, open windows. Even at night, windows were open to the public to look in and see families watching television or eating their meals. What were they thinking? While we Americans value our privacy and keep our curtains closed most the time, people in the Netherlands view closed curtains as a sign of hiding something, so in the interest of transparency, they invite the world to view their lives, even decorating their living rooms to be seen by pedestrians.

The houses of the Netherlands reflect its citizens. When one lives in a country where land is below sea level, one finds ways to make the most of the limited space they have. Nederlanders are tall, honest, good people who open their arms to their visitors. It’s hard to find a place where English isn’t spoken. I can’t wait to return to feast on the country’s beauty, but I will keep my eyes posted upward for swaying buildings and sideways for speeding bicycles.

Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passion is traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She loves the Netherlands, and she’s still learning Dutch, although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks perfect English. A recent widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and pix in her newsletter. Subscribe at

A Song for Her Enemies



  1. Welcome to HHH! This style of architecture reminds me of row houses here in America, or "shotgun" houses. I can't imagine having them lean towards the street though! Thanks for sharing the interesting experiences you had!

  2. I think they're charming, and there are hooks on them to lift furniture to the upper floors.

  3. Welcome today. What a wonderful post. I would love to visit the Netherlands. I have read so much about it. It is on our bucket list. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Definitely worth a trip, and I recommend Haarlem, 20 minutes from Amsterdam. My book A Song for Her Enemies, takes place there. Everyone speaks English.

  4. I REALLY enjoyed reading this post. I love to travel, but haven't been able to travel since losing my husband. I'm sorry to read that Sherri Stewart is also a widow. (praying for you) I have always wanted to travel to the Netherlands. I loved the pictures here and clicking on the links to learn more information. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. s

  5. Thanks. Travel really helped me move on. I'll never move completely on, but travel to my books' sites has given me something to look forward to.