Furnishing your Dutch home

Some insight into the local customs involved in furnishing a home that may surprise a newcomer to the Netherlands...

What will you need?

In a word: Everything. Like a homeowner, a tenant in the Netherlands has free rein to decorate their rented home however they like, and tend to live in a place for many years. This means they will buy and install their own carpets or laminate, curtains, and a kitchen, and will take all of these things with them when they leave. If they no longer want the fittings then the new tenant (or owner) will be offered the chance to buy them (an additional cost to standard rent and utilities). The price is negotiated directly between the new tenant/owner and the previous one, rather than being negotiated by an agent.

Outdoor clotheslines are available to buy but are rarely used in free-standing houses. In a country that is cold for nine months of the year, dryers are the norm. Apartment balconies are used to hang laundry even though many councils have guidelines prohibiting this practice.

Even in new suburbs, Dutch houses tend to be tall and narrow. This is a holdover from centuries ago when taxes were levied according to the width of the house rather than the overall size. The result is that space-saving is a high priority and homewares are designed accordingly. For instance most clothes dryers are wall-mounted to sit above the washing machine rather than beside it. Bunk-beds and loft beds are popular, allowing maximum usage of floor space. Combi-ovens (a microwave and electric oven in one) are common.

However many homes come with a small storage locker that will fit a couple of bikes and/or a baby pram and a few other bits and pieces.

Getting your furniture into the house

Homes in the Netherlands tend to be much smaller than a newcomer may be used to. This means that a double-door fridge, a large corner sofa, or a 10-seater dining table may be better left behind rather than moving it to Holland. It also means that careful measuring before shopping will ensure a successful fit.

Don't count on being able to carry your furniture in through the front door of your home if you live in a city apartment or townhouse. Narrow steep stairways and a lack of elevators/lifts makes this method difficult if not impossible. Many older Dutch city homes (canal houses) lean forward. This is not due to a sagging building, it is a deliberate design feature allowing a rope and pulley system to get heavy furniture in through an upstairs window. Look for a hoist hook hanging from the gable of the building. Also note that many older houses retain their verhuisramen (moving windows) that can be completely removed to create space for large furnishings. Many moving companies in the Netherlands today utilise a motorised skid. This allows items to be placed on it directly from the moving truck and then lifted up to the appropriate window. These may reach as high as 6 to 8 floors, the normal maximum height of most apartment blocks in Holland.

Where can you buy furnishings?

Department stores in the Netherlands do not sell furniture, but do offer a variety of home d├ęcor and bedding.Apart from the occasional chain store, most shops specialise in a particular type of product. This means that furnishing a home may require trips to multiple stores, buying couches from one, lighting from another, and flooring from yet another. Exploring smaller independent stores can yield bargains and much more personal service than heading straight to the chains, such as Ikea, although obviously this can be time-consuming.

Many furniture stores in Holland do not stock inventory, acting instead as showrooms. An order is custom made and delivery is usually within 4-6 weeks. Home store type shopping centers (wooncentrums) are a growing trend in Holland. The stores usually specialise either in furnishings, appliances, electronics or home improvement. For the temporary resident, there are also options available for renting furniture.

Used Furniture (Second-hand)

Markplaats.nl is the Dutch version of Ebay. In fact, this popular online classifieds site was bought out by Ebay when the parent company failed to establish its brand in the Netherlands. Translating as Marketplace, marktplaats is a way to pick up lightly used bargains. It is common to pick up an item from the owner's house and exchange mobile numbers. Refusing to do this is seen as suspicious, rather than a normal tactic for ensuring personal safety as is customary in other countries. Second-hand stores (kringloopwinkels) are also common. Not all second-hand stores carry furniture, but there are many which exclusively offer furnishings.

Yard sales (Garage sales)

The Dutch don't do impromptu yard sales or garage sales. Instead, whole neighbourhoods have a set day when all the locals put stalls outside their homes and sell their second-hand goods. Dates for these rommelmarkten are set in advance and listed online.