A House of Two Halves: Blaring classical music and a dinging clock stream through the mazed walls of Ingrid and Robert Labadie's 17th-century stately home. Tea is served in Wedgewood china before Robert reveals the mansion's greatest secret. Emma Becque and Isabel Bronts take a tour.



In the secret stateroom, a mural by Anthony Elliger (pictured, bottom) looms above fireplace masterpieces, while painted vases in the corners weave together the four seasons and life's stages © Isabel Bronts


Gandering passersby are abundant outside Ingrid and Robert Labadie's 17th-century city palace. Through their rented floor-to-ceiling windows on a bustling stretch of Amsterdam's canals, the couple has found themselves residents of a remarkable chapter of Dutch history - thanks to a stroke of luck.

Over two decades ago, while searching for a home, the pair ran into a friend from The Hendrick de Keyser Association (architectural historians) and discovered the organisation was seeking tenants for a space above a museum. “It felt destined,” Robert says. So, captivated by its splendour, they decide to rent the unique apartment rather than buy elsewhere. Two decades later, the Labadies continue to share their walls with the secret House van Brienen. The art collectors have retained a relationship with the space, discarding modernities for an eclectic mix of antique furnishings and museum-worthy collectables to honour the 18th-century interiors.


Dirk Dalens III's mural painting gleams in the secret stateroom, presenting an evening sun over a fantastical river scene © Isabel Bronts

They are indeed worthy of recognition, ranking in the Netherlands' top 100 most essential rooms and gardens. Behind locked doors, the property's enchanting mythological murals, silk wallpapers - and a garden room worthy of royalty - are among Amsterdam's very best-kept secrets (under the watchful eye of Hendrik de Keyser).

Like the turning of pages in a novel, the story of House van Brienen unfolds. Its tragedy-marked inception began with a murder when, in 1614, jeweller and art dealer Hans van Wely, the owner of two plots on the “golden” canal, ended abruptly with his death.

By 1620, his grief-stricken widow had ordered the construction of two identical houses. After several ownership changes, one of these houses (currently House van Brienen) was obtained by merchant David Rutgers and his two sisters in 1728.

The trio embarked on a transformation that adorned the space in Louis XIV style; this period of grandeur involved engaging leading craftspeople, introducing a monumental staircase, expansive back house and garden room.

Visitors can view Van Brienen House, and its secret stateroom, by making an appointment with The Hendrick de Keyser Association © Isabel Bronts


A striking example of their efforts can be found in the secret stateroom, wrapped in hand-painted murals by Dirk Dalens III. An ethereal depiction of a river landscape at dusk, populated with figures amidst fantastical structures, is layered with Anthonie Elliger's ceiling and chimney artworks of mythological narratives.

By 1781, Arnoldus Johannes van Brienen acquired the home as a nuptial gift for his son, Willem Joseph, aligning with his tenure as Amsterdam's mayor under King Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. The last steward was Princess d’Henin, Angelique van Brienen, who cherished the space as a Parisian pied-à-terre. Etched 19th-century markers of her presence are evident in the sumptuous Empire-Biedermeier style dining room, maintaining the neoclassical Louis XVI elegance of the period.

The 18th-century silk damask wall coverings are particularly noteworthy, preserving the threads of a rich historical tapestry. In 1933, van Brienen's son ensured her legacy by bequeathing the house to Hendrick de Keyser, stipulating that it remain untouched. In honour of his mother, the house was renamed House van Brienen.

In stark contrast to the monumental estate, Roberts's brother Marc Labadie built a wood-panelled contemporary kitchen in the couple's modern quarters above the secret state room © Isabel Bronts


Present day, upstairs, Robert and Ingrid share a love of betrothed treasures like the princess before them, amassing a collection of emblematic heirlooms. In their mammoth living quarters sits an equally “too large” sofa alongside a painting by Willem Wenckebach, a friend of Roberts's grandmother.

Another bequest, a vibrant and wild expressionism of a tulip field by Herman Kruyder, a gift from Robert's general practitioner grandfather who had acquired the painting in exchange for medical bills cumulated by the then-depressed artist.

Other souvenirs include a miniature French Napolean era soldier (a gallery find in Paris) and a Sotheby’s auction win by Flemish painter, Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, which, by chance, was once owned by a friend of the couple.

The garden house, built in 1728 alongside the main house, showcases a Louis XIV-style which frames the garden like a theatrical stage © Isabel Bronts


Ingrid, a former associate at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), has a “magical touch for keepsakes”, her husband reveals, and never discards special textiles. This fondness has bestowed the house with draped curtains, upholstered antique chairs, and pillows, keeping with the original house's chalky coral and pistachio green colour palette. In complementary fashion, the couple's reading room is a library of gallery walls showcasing Ingrid's knack for sourcing Chinese artworks. 

Equally, Robert, a former stockbroker, is a modest art collector. Using his forensic eye, he sources exotic pieces from a tiny limestone Afghanistan 14th-century sculpture to a 1323 BC Greek pottery dish, each intricately housed within their microscopic museum shelves. Consistent with the house, an 18th-century tapestry bought from De Wit Fine Tapestries in Belgium is in pride of place, weaving tales of a Chinese temple.


In the couples reading room an 18th-century tapestry hugs the wall purchased from De Wit Fine Tapestries © Isabel Bronts

A slick Italian leather sofa and 1980s matching burnt orange chairs offer ample seating and a starkly modern touch to the space. Billowing corridors house portraits and numerous display cabinets are filled with French tableware, awaiting the couple's pending dinner parties. A real architectural masterpiece is the winding staircase, the heart of the home, interconnecting the past and present. 

Collectors and custodians of important European decorative history, Ingrid and Robert are the perfect stewards for Amsterdam's Van Brienen House, infusing this 18th-century city palace with life once more. Theirs is a rare rental opportunity, which is just as extraordinary as the silken walls of the dining room.


With thanks to Ingrid and Robert Labadie, and The Hendrick De Keyser Association


A ceiling mural by Anthony Elliger looms above the secret state room © Isabel Bronts

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