What is a home? Window Stories

The concept of home is a recent invention. This must be said, over and over again.

Dutch historians agree that the concept of ‘home’ began to develop in the 19th century, before which life was lived completely in the street by all of society.

Home doors were open. Women sat at the doors, but not for sale.

Vermeer, Het Straatje

Over time, the private and public sphere began to separate.

Citizens were guided toward decent and civilized behavior by culturally emphasizing the roughness of the outdoors. In conversations, in etiquette, in social climbing rituals. Street life was understood to be dirty, noisy and crowded.

Inside the home was to be orderly, neat, and warm – gezellig. Civility rules began to take hold, pushed by the wealthy elite, and spread out among all aspects of life: work, behavior and comportment, family, self-care, and the home. At the underlying root was the concept of an urban cleansing, one that would exclude certain groups and maintain order, of course, but it also aspired to raise the quality levels of life for those that deemed it simply more civilized. It was set in motion by the in high society and trickled down to the middle class, where it affected more and more of society.

The Amsterdamschen Bestuurdersbond (Association of Amsterdam Administration) was so invested in materializing these new customs and behaviors, they commissioned a research on the homes of the Amsterdam slums, to promote the Dutch Housing Act of 1901. 

These reported conditions of terrible living situations in the outskirts of Amsterdam, outside the canal belt. Descriptions of large families cramped into small spaces, smells, dirt, animals, and overall degradation spilling onto the streets helped kickstart a redesign of the city. The slums were demolished or renovated, and new, gorgeous neighborhoods were built – from Rivierenbuurt and Oud-Zuid, the Westelijke Tuinsteden.

But the numbers didn’t include the fact that the homes of the poor did not allow luxuries like the separation by cleanliness and order. And while their homes were destroyed and rebuilt, the behaviors of those from the slums wouldn’t simply transform. Their tastes were still not up to the standards of so-called civility, but they were still keen on showing off their new home and social standing. So came the fake gold, the imitation antique furniture, and the frilly window decorations. While they proudly displayed what, and who, they had become, the upper circles would continue to deride their style as ‘fake chic’.

Ironically, that Jordaan style, right on the border with the old money canals, has over the century become the calling card of the city, and lauded as the true, authentic Amsterdam. 

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