In some ways, Canal House itself is typical of the houses built in the 17th Century. As Amsterdam prospered, its citizens began to build lavish residences for themselves. Very often the residences served also as businesses, with the basement and attics being used to store imported goods which were to be sold.
Due to the limited space and desire to maintain a level of equality, the houses were usually not more that 30ft wide (9 metres), and characterised by big, narrow windows and decorative gable tops. Very narrow stairs maximised space in the buildings, using as little as possible of the floor area. Naturally this made moving and transporting furniture and goods difficult, so pulleys both inside and outside the buildings were used to transport larger objects to the upper floors. Canal House is still rich with these features – some of which were actively used during its recent restoration.
Canal House is extremely unusual, however, in its scale and size. The Great Room which links the buildings together was designed for impressive entertainment. The triple width garden, likewise, is an extremely rare feature in Amsterdam. Canal House also has a distinctive horse-shoe shape, enveloping a small house on each side – though this was not intentional: a previous owner installed his mistress in this part of the building which is why it is now missing.
Our buildings, numbers 148 and 152 were the home to several merchants and their businesses in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, before being turned into a hotel in the 1950s, by an eccentric and flamboyant American hotelier who was an avid collector of Dutch art and knick-knacks which were proudly displayed on walls, shelves and every other flat surface in the buildings in a traditional Dutch fashion. Many of these have been retained and re-used, providing continuity to the buildings that have stood on this spot for four hundred years.
Outside the entrance, you will see the name of St. Donatus, to whom the buildings were dedicated when they were built. He is the saint who guards against lightning – a major concern in a city where many of the houses are made of wood. Fittingly, his cult is also linked with protecting the grape harvest, making him the most suitable patron for a hotel with a good wine list.