Dutch Design at the Residence of the Ambassador


In the long history of Indonesia and The Netherlands, there have been many shared traditions and cultural influence. From food to law, Indonesia has a diversity that has been strongly influenced by its colonial past.

Photo by Bagus tri laksono

The European design ethos introduced by the Dutch to Indonesia has become part of the nation’s heritage and something to be preserved. In Jakarta, for example, there are several buildings from the colonial era done in classic or Art Deco architecture. One of those unique, well-preserved luxury homes built in the Independence era is the residence of The Netherlands’ ambassador to Indonesia, Rob Swartbol, and his wife, Jacqueline.

Located in the high-end vicinity of Menteng, Central Jakarta; the house was designed by the Dutch architect Han Groenewegen in 1948 in the New Realism tradition, which was the lodestone for architects in Europe as well as Dutch expatriate architects in Indonesia at the time. The main form is unassuming though it is clearly recognizable with uninterrupted walls. The windows on the upper floor are characteristically horizontal and have austere concrete canopies to give shade. Known for his architectural designs, such as the Oranje School, the Menteng Cinema on Jl. Cokroaminoto and the Bank Indonesia building on Jl. Thamrin; Groenewegen made this house first for a residential series for the Javasche Bank.

Groenewegen’s designs have clarity and subtlety while radiating individuality. It’s straightforward main form, clear window layout and white colour facade gives a strong character to the house. It is also evident in the inside of the residence, where the essence of New Realism is shown through the stained windows by the stairwell with the coats of arms of all the provinces of the Netherlands in existence when the house was built.

The house was renovated in 1966 by architect Jan Holstein from the Dutch foreign office, introducing some classic elements, and again in 2000, with an upgrade to adopt 21st century standards. As an official residence, the house was designed to hold large and frequent receptions, from formal dinners to even concerts for 100 guests. A stunning contemporary chandelier called “Light Shade Shade” by Jurgen Bey from Moooi makes a great centrepiece in this high-ceilinged and spacious dining room.

The main living room is spacious, with a grand piano as the piece de resistance. A blue made-to-measure carpet gives contrast to the white room and was also especially designed for this house. Juxtaposed against a 1998 painting by Janneke Viegers showing the center of Utrecht, including the Dom Tower, is a beautiful hybrid old-Dutch/Chinoiserie style cabinet and a three-metre-long chaise lounge. We love to see playful design approaches, such as four bold shell chairs and the large two-tier Perspex coffee tables.

On the first floor and parallel to the dining room and living room are two studies with connecting doors. One is used as the ambassador’s office and library. The interior approach presents the sophisticated character of the couple in creating a homey and well-designed ambiance. Rob Swartbol says that a house should be warm and be inviting. “People should feel at home when they visit us. Obviously, functionality is important, too, but the atmospherics are crucial.”

Going to the second floor via a staircase with beautiful stained windows is the master bedroom and two guest rooms. The house also features a lush garden with tropical vegetation such as hibiscus, heliconia and a golden candle surrounding a big swimming pool and a guest pavilion that has its own living room, a bedroom, and bathroom.

The Dutch residence showcases the greatness of the past and the present in beautiful harmony. It has a strong European feel and Dutch accents with a homey vibe. This is the principal for the Swartbols when it comes to living. Jacqueline Swartbol stated that a perfect home should be a place where you feel at ease and you don’t have to sit up. She adds that it was important for her to give a personal touch to the residence, especially when moving to a fully furnished house. “My perfect home would not be perfect without books, pictures and lots of candles,” she says.

Like this story, share to your friends
Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.