Brief history of the shippinghouse (Scheepvaarthuis)

Brief history of the shippinghouse (Scheepvaarthuis)

In the early 20th century, six shipping companies decided to join forces to build a shared head office, from where they could sell tickets for voyages by sea to the Dutch East Indies, Africa and other destinations. Prins Hendrikkade proved to be the perfect location as it was close to Oostelijke Handelskade, which was the quay from where the trading ships docked and departed. Belief in shipping was sky-high at the time, since controlling the seas means controlling trade. The envisaged building was required to exude splendour and strength. In 1912 architect Van der Meij is appointed to design this symbolic structure.

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Amsterdam School

Van der Meij 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 Meij invites colleagues to work on the project, turning it into a 'Gesamtkunstwerk', or total work of art. The team of young artists applied 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 took three years to complete the first phase of the Scheepvaarthuis (Dutch for ‘House of Shipping’).

Shipping companies

By 1916 the six shipping companies were operating from the prestigious palace they so desired as their head office. Travellers could come here to book their voyage in suitably stylish surroundings. The most popular destinations were the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Africa, but ships also sailed 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 was stored in a massive cast-iron walk-in safe in the basement.

Public Transport Company

After World War II the shipping companies gradually moved out of the Scheepvaarthuis, and in 1983 the city’s public transport company (GVB) moved into the building. The interior was refurbished in the prevailing style of the day, with additions that included pastel-tinted ceiling panels, computer flooring and strip lighting.

Van Eijl

In 1998 the Amsterdam Municipality put the building on the market. Property developer van Eijl spotted an opportunity to turn this majestic edifice into a characteristic and charismatic five-star hotel. He handed architect Ray Kentie the challenge of coming up with a design that made 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 started in 2003. Ray Kentie invited the artists Gertie Bierenbroodspot and Christie van der Haak to complete the renovation work with him. Bierenbroodspot made lithographs of ships, fish and sea monsters. She even designed the hand-painted tiles on the bottom of the swimming pool and the porcelain table service. Christie van der Haak took care of the soft furnishings and fabrics in the hotel, inspired by the elegant style of Nieuwenhuis.

Hotel opening 

At last, in June 2007, The Grand Hotel Amrâth opened its doors. Guests marvelled at the discovery of authentic and historical features and wrote raving reviews. As a result the hotel won numerous prizes. No wonder the Grand Hotel Amrâth is "A world of luxury and art".