Jeweler Bibi van der Velden Converted a Church Gymnasium Into an Elegant Family Home

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In van der Velden’s living room, the church’s old medicine balls sit like Moroccan poufs on a Kelim rug. The exquisite chair features elephants and lions and has, “a few million beads,” she says.

Photo: Courtesy of Bibi van der Velden

 

A scroll through Bibi van der Velden’s website reveals fine jewelry both playful and layered with history. Shoulder-grazing drop earrings that look like bedazzled Jordan almonds are actually carved from 40,000-year-old mammoth tusks. And a scarab ring (which held amuletic powers in ancient Egypt) features iridescent wings crafted from, what else, but the actual wings of a dung beetle. It’s fitting then, that chez van der Velden also winks to yesteryear.

From a seat at the kitchen table of her Amsterdam home, you’ll spot gymnastic rings and knotted ropes hovering overhead, remnants of the building’s purpose before she and her family moved in—a Scientology Church School. “When we bought it, we immediately saw the potential, though it still had the permit for a school,” says van der Velden. “It took us two years to convince the city council we were the right people for this, to get the permits changed and to rebuild the space into our home.” But it was all worth it in the end. Today, the jeweler, her husband, and two children—Charlie, six, and Balthazar, three—come home to a space that’s quintessentially van der Velden.

For van der Velden, transforming the three-floor property from a school (gym and all) into a functioning home was not unlike designing jewelry. She heeded history—retaining the property’s original gymnasium cork floors and jungle gym suspensions—and infused a bit of her taste for the natural world. The rooms unfold like different shelves of a wunderkammer. Throughout, you’ll find plenty of greenery, but also the occasional taxidermied animal and ostrich egg as décor. In a hallway, a colorful art piece features a school of birds; they’re rare species, collected from zoos that donate the corpses of animals who have died a natural death, “If you want a specific bird, you’re on a waiting list until they have one that dies,” says van der Velden. The result is incredibly cheerful. “I’m giving them a second life,” she says.

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