A quick spin through this epicenter of new-world Dutch style. By Tanya Dukes
Before setting out for The Netherlands's Rotterdam, you'd be well served to banish visions of quaint Renaissance townhouses, romantic canals, and armadas of ruddy-cheeked Dutch on granny bikes. On the contrary, Rotterdam is a fully modern city in appearance and attitude. And between the lamp-post banners touting its status as this year's City of Architecture and the constant hum of construction from the transit hub makeover—not to mention all the edgy new buildings springing up—Rotterdam is happily escaping the shadow of its fellow Dutch city up north.
Essentially leveled by WWII bombing to disable its crucial port (one of the world's largest), the city was rebuilt over the decades that followed; centuries-old structures are in short supply, but the bare post-war landscape provided a laboratory for innovative architects to make their mark with the offbeat projects that have become Rotterdam's calling card. That irreverent architecture is emblematic of a young, art-savvy culture that supports creativity in all its guises, including shopping and future-friendly design.
Compact and easy to walk in just a day or two, Rotterdam's thriving districts offer an easily digestible slice of first-rate fashion and furniture from The Netherlands and further afield. Forget the wooden shoe clichés—this mini epicenter is built on an altogether different kind of Dutch style.
Interiors boutique Depot Rotterdam displays that peculiarly Dutch talent for combining high-toned design and a sense of humor. You'll find all manner of furniture, books, and home accessories from a venerable Who's Who of modern design, plus newer stars like Piero Lissoni assembled in happy vignettes. The sofas may be too big to pack as souvenirs, but you can take home whimsical, fairytale-inspired dinnerware by Tord Boontje.
It's all Dutch designers all the time at Galerie Puur. Nienke Hagedoorn minds the store and creates jewelry pieces destined for the boutique's displays from a bench just inside the storefront window. Her creations, and that of 14 other jewelry and accessories designers, fill shocking-orange display cases in the compact space. Cheeky rings adorned with miniature versions of Dutch pottery and colorful spangled necklaces in leather appear alongside sculptural pieces in silver and yellow gold.
Punky paint-splattered T-shirts are liable to hang next to experimental pleated and knotted dresses and sharply cut frock coats at Nieuwe Ontwerpers. The 8-year-old store provides a much-needed resource for new designers—as an outlet to sell and display their work. An ever-changing roster of about nine clothing and accessories designers—all Dutch-bred or educated—offer their merch in the spare gallery-like boutique. Nearly everything on offer is a one-off or available in very limited quantities, which nullifies the age-old worry of seeing your incredible new discovery on the commuter beside you.
Perfectly constructed, wearable pieces from avant-garde designers is Margreeth Olsthoorn's stock-in-trade. Women's and men's clothing, shoes, and accessories, including jewelry are available in the stark, single-room shop. Look for understated, divinely cut frocks from Maria Møller, grown-up club kid clothes by Henrik Vibskov, and a supply of work-to-play pieces by Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela, and Eksempel, among others. Despite their strenuously hip looks, the staff is unaffected and eager to help grab a needed size or provide pointers on how to pronounce an obscure Scandinavian label.
Jewelry designer Stephanie Kofhmehl notes that the Dutch have two different words for jewelry; one describes the blinding, big-ticket stuff, the other, personal, design-centric pieces—her 11-year-old boutique stocks the latter, which includes her own line SK2, known for its inventive use of steel in sleek, sculptural forms, and understated sprinklings of diamonds. Also represented are designs from mostly European designers like Monika Seitter and Martin Wittwer whose gems are a hit with fashion intelligensia.
• Prague, Van Oldebaneveltstraat 123A, +31-10-3134718
A finely edited assortment of women's and men's clothing, shoes, and accessories from fashion's established mavericks: Rick Owens, Haider Ackerman, Junya Watanabe, Ann Demeulemeester, et al. stock the shelves here. Owner Louis Dijksman's mini industrial-style space features clothing in every variation of black and greige, with pops of boho color courtesy of Dries Van Noten. At the forefront of Rotterdam's fashion scene, the briefest of visit will provide sightings of the city's beau monde.
You may not know his name but you've definitely seen the furniture designs produced by Marcel Wanders' design incubator Moooi (Random Light, an orb of white fiberglass yarn surrounding a single bulb, is the hip lighting fixture du jour). The design showroom-slash-consultancy will offer up loads of inspiration on how to do up the downtown loft of your dreams. The yawning space with exposed brick walls is located in an industrial arcade that's been transformed to house galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. On its upper floor you'll find much of the Moooi collection of versatile, streamlined seating, tables, storage, and lighting; below there are pieces from international designers and works from artists, including Rotterdam-based photog Ari Versluis, known for his Exactitudes series.
Go to Studio Hergebruik for no-guilt shopping—everything is made with recycled or repurposed materials. The array of products in this boutique and exhibition space defies the notion that eco-conscious design consists of boring hemp T-shirts in muddy tones. Art, home goods, clothes, and jewelry have a playful touch. The wares of about 40 designers from around the world are represented—standouts include revamped chairs by Amsterdam-based Project 99 embellished in cowhide, wallpaper, and felt, and graphic rings and bracelets made from tin containers by Suzanne van Oirsch. For those who want to get hands-on with their green inclinations, the boutique offers workshops in papermaking and collage.
• Binnenrotte Market Square
Every Tuesday and Saturday you'll find blue-haired pensioners, street-savvy students, and everyone in between looking to score a bargain at this flea market-style outdoor market. Spend a morning sifting through stands with heaps of cut-rate clothing, electronics, and fresh fruit, or drop in to get a homemade brootje and a bundle of fresh flowers for your hotel room.
Architect Piet Blom's looming yellow apartment and commercial development is like a kid's Lego invention come to life and may be Rotterdam's most iconic landmark. Tour the interior of a model home and check out its Mork and Mindy-reminiscent interior for two euros.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is Rotterdam's preeminent fine arts museum with works dating from the medieval period to the present, including works from Van Eyck, Rembrandt, and Kandinsky.
Mounting several major exhibitions at once from a variety of media and time periods, the Kunsthal provides one-stop shopping for culture hounds. No surprise, Pritzker Prize winner (and Rotterdam native) Rem Koolhaas designed the imposing structure.
The innovative menu makes it worth seeking out Restaurant Smaak tucked away in a converted warehouse complex. The chorizo and kale soup is sublime.
Part old-school café, part power lunch venue, Grand Café Loos has easy charm that's even easier to love. A cozy wraparound bar, perfectly burnished chrome surfaces, and comfortably creaky wooden seats are especially welcome on a rainy day. The wide-ranging menu offers Flemish dishes and Asian-inflected food along with classic breakfast treats and sandwiches.
Make a pit stop at this teensy, low-key café situated on a plaza in the trendy Maagd Van Holland (MaHo) neighborhood for comfort food staples: coffees, cakes, soups, sandwiches, and salads. For a side of culture, visit the downstairs lounge that screens video art from new and established artists.
Small and quirky with a bright multiculti vibe, each of the three floors of rooms follows a distinct regional theme. The top floor offers the best rooms—they have access to a terrace and are done in late-Latin American kitsch. Included in the nightly rate is breakfast at the popular Mediterranean restaurant on the ground floor.
In a city of so much new architecture, Hotel New York is a cozy touch of 19th-century style. The building served as the offices of the Holland America cruise company, now its loft-style rooms are minimalist but still cheerful, and many have amazing views.
A quick spin through this epicenter of new-world Dutch style.