Brief history of the Shippinghouse (het Scheepvaarthuis)
Built as the head office of a number of shipping companies, the Scheepvaarthuis occupies a historic site. Many sea voyages departed from here during the 16th and 17th centuries. Over time the building lost its original function, but the grandeur from that period survived.
In the early 20th century, six shipping companies decide to join forces and build a shared head office, where they can sell tickets for voyages by sea to the Dutch East Indies, Africa and other destinations. Prins Hendrikkade is an excellent location: close to Oostelijke Handelskade, the quay where the ships dock and depart from. Belief in shipping is sky-high at the time, since controlling the seas means controlling trade. The envisaged building must therefore exude splendour and strength. In 1912 architect Van der Mey is appointed to design this symbolic structure.
Van der Mey draws inspiration from the Art Nouveau movement and gives it a distinctly Dutch twist. Expressive dynamism, lavish ornamentation and colourful embellishments characterise this style, later known as the Amsterdam School. Van der Mey invites colleagues to work on the project, turning it into a 'Gesamtkunstwerk', or total work of art. The team of young artists applies maritime motifs liberally, even in the smallest details. Waves, sea creatures and ships appear almost everywhere: not only in stained-glass windows, sculpture work and marble but also in furniture and fittings such as carpets, chairs and wallpaper. It takes three years to complete the first phase of the Scheepvaarthuis (Dutch for ‘House of Shipping’).
By 1916 the six shipping companies are operating from the prestigious palace they so desired as their head office. Travellers can come here to book their voyage in suitably stylish surroundings. The most popular destinations are the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Africa, but ships also sail from Java to New York, China, Japan and South America. Today the booking counters are a reminder of how tickets were sold. Money from the sales is stored in a safe in the basement.
After World War II the shipping companies gradually move out of the Scheepvaarthuis, and in 1983 the city’s public transport company (GVB) moves into the building. The interior is refurbished in the prevailing style of the day, with additions that include pastel-tinted ceiling panels, computer floors and strip lighting.
In 1998 the municipality puts the building on the market. Property developer Van Eijl spots an opportunity to turn this majestic edifice into a characteristic and charismatic five-star hotel. He hands architect Ray Kentie the challenge of coming up with a design that makes everybody think this building was always a hotel. A sweeping renovation is required to achieve that goal.
One and a half years of demolition and clearance starts in 2003. After removing all the ugly additions, Kentie invites the artists Gertie Bierenbroodspot and Christie van der Haak to complete the renovation work with him. Bierenbroodspot makes lithographs of ships, fish and sea monsters. She even designs the hand-painted tiles on the bottom of the swimming pool and the porcelain table service. Christie van der Haak takes care of the soft furnishings and fabrics in the hotel, finding inspiration in the elegant style of Nieuwenhuis.
At last, in June 2007, the Grand Hotel Amrâth opens its doors. Guests marvel at the discovery of authentic and historical features and write raving reviews.
As a result, the hotel wins numerous prizes. No wonder the Grand Hotel Amrâth is ‘a world of luxury and art’.