When Costs Kept Rising, This Couple Built Their House Themselves
And they made it sustainable, to boot.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:43 AM
“We spent several years in overalls,” Foekje Fleur remembers. Back in 2017, on a limited budget, the Dutch artist and her husband, filmmaker Marcel IJzerman, tapped Korteknie and Stuhlmacher Architects to bring the small yet deceptively spacious home they always wanted to fruition. Then costs started to escalate. They made a choice to save money, without sacrificing their vision. They started working as builders.
“We were only prepared to do so if this was going to be a place where we could live for a long time—even the rest of our lives,” says Fleur. “That meant we needed more space for future family members, which led to even more costs. It was a challenge, but we came up with affordable solutions that made our wildest dreams come true.”
How do two people with absolutely no construction experience build a house? It all came down to the blueprint: The couple worked with their architects to figure out what they could feasibly do on their own. “We were amazed by the fact that everything could be learned from YouTube, from building a wall to installing electricity to the facade construction,” Fleur says. They hired contractors during the day, but at night and over weekends, Fleur and Ijzerman picked up where they left off. After just 10 months of construction, the home was move-in ready.
The 328-square-foot space in Rotterdam was made complete with two bedrooms and a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room, in addition to a studio for Fleur to work on her designs (you’ll probably recognize her bottle vase collection, inspired by plastic waste). It was also designed with sustainability at top of mind: It’s fully insulated and temperature controlled with an air heat pump and solar panels, plus the shower has a system that cuts down on energy costs. Outside, the couple planted a vegetable garden.
Inside, the house is just as tailored to Fleur and IJzerman’s lifestyle, from the above-average-height door handles and ceilings (to accommodate the couple’s height) to the built-in cabinets and benches made by Fleur’s father, a carpenter. “The ideal home fits like a glove, and this one does that pretty well,” she says.
White walls and timber ceilings (made by Swiss brand Lignatur and transported to the home in pieces) provide a neutral canvas for layers of color and texture—which the couple added in with splashy yellow cushions, a multi-tonal blue striped rug, and paintings that IJzerman created in art school. “The works hadn’t seen the light for a while, so it’s nice to be able to display them here,” Fleur says. “I love to see how different colors interact and influence one another. Even when I change something small like a pillow, it creates a big impact.”
Fleur tends to keep her work in her studio, though she does sometimes scatter a few prototypes around. “It gives me a chance to look at them from various angles, which makes me see them differently,” she says.
On weekends, Fleur and IJzerman still spend time working on the house. They eventually want to add some wallpaper and install a green roof, and Fleur has found herself getting even more into gardening, a hobby that she says might inspire a future design project—even if not all her housemates are on board. “After a few weeks, our veggie garden was ruined by our chickens—Bea, Patricia, and Pip—but we didn’t really mind because we realized they were our new favorite animals,” she says. “The chickens don’t really care about us—they just live their own lives and come in for snacks.” When a home is as vibrant and intimate as this, who wouldn’t want to pop in for a visit?
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