Hotel Piet Hein Eek

Astonising design that's 100% Eindhoven

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It’s late when we arrive in Schiphol, around 10pm, and for us to break the back of a demanding itinerary, we have further to travel tonight. We rent a car and coast along 130km of pristine, uninterrupted highway to Eindhoven, the design and technology capital of the Netherlands. Starving, we stop at the only open “Snack Bar” for miles around, and indulge in Doner kebabs while observing the quiet streets; flat, immaculately clean, adorned by tidy two story homes and elegant bars – warm light leaks through vast expanses of glass, complemented by red brick and locals who pass frequently on bikes in spite of it being past midnight. I didn’t know what I was expecting from Eindhoven, but seeing it in the flesh, every aspect of its design, infrastructure and population make sense – all fitting with what one might expect from the home of Philips electronics. 

Swathes of the city constructed during and before the industrial revolution were destroyed during the second world war, with Philips being an obvious target. The traditional architecture of the city was not always heavily considered during Eindhoven’s reconstruction - can you really blame people for wanting something new, after experiencing the trauma and tragedy of war? Since then micro-villages have been built within the city to house Philips employees – the neat estates are made from small and tidy red, white or beige bricks – roofs are sometimes flat but almost all are fitted with solar panels. Far from coming across as robotic, or dystopian, the city feels as though it were built to fit the needs of a people motivated by innovation.

As it happens, the ultimate culmination of this drive towards technology, design, reconstruction and restoration manifests in the place our journey ends for the night. We pull into what looks like a factory, and drive down a narrow lane so that we’re sandwiched between warehouse walls dominated by the large multipanel windows typical of industrial architecture. The warm fluorescent light inside illuminates furniture of all varieties, and in various stages of construction.

PHOTO: Adele Juraža

We’re staying in the newly opened Piet Hein Eek hotel in Eindhoven, named after the esteemed Dutch designer who’s focus, style and expertise centers around sustainability, and all things ecological. Eek’s art and designs always start with found materials, and are then subject to the work of skilled craftspeople, who convert old plastics, scrap metal, rocks, and wooden planks (to name but a few components of the detritus used) into sleek and unique pieces of art, furniture and installation.

For example, the hallway leading to each of the hotel’s thirteen rooms appears to be lined with expensive wood paneling, but the material used is actually old roof decking, with the side facing out into the hallway being the face usually pressed into tar. This paneling is the background for an abstract series of drawings by Dutch artist Aart Roos, and with the hall being bookended by glass panels that throw light down the narrow passage in the morning, the stain on the wood appears both vibrant and elegant. Every room in the hotel is designed by a different artist, each of whom Eek has collaborated with previously, and all rooms feature an antique item – be it an elegant old desk or a retro telephone – all of which reinstate Eek’s emphasis on finding new spaces for the old, used, and outdated.

PHOTO: Adele Juraža

Everything in the building strikes the perfect balance between clever and creative, economic and extravagant. The Wonder Room, diagonally located across from the open plan kitchen and lobby, is somewhat of a labyrinth, fitted with components that foster the artificial glow omitted by eye-catching lighting fixtures, and spaces that allow natural light to pour through sculptures made from multi-coloured, recycled plastics. The walls of the adjacent meeting room are padded with old mattress foam, dyed in a variety of pastel tones; no material is off the table when it comes to new potential uses here. 

In the morning, Marleen Ars, the hotel’s manager, gives us a tour around the hotel and surrounding buildings, and we discover that the factory walls we squeezed between on our way in the night before, lead onto Eek’s workshop and offices, where designs are engineered and bespoke pieces of furniture (that is to say, all pieces of furniture) are fabricated. These beautiful, creative and enlivening spaces have been based in Eindhoven for twelve years and remain the beating heart of all things Eek – the hotel was only added last year, to give people a more immersive experience of his art and design. Nestled here, in an old Philips factory now bursting with a modernity born of antiquity, I am determined to return to Eindhoven. 

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