Five Questions for… Designer Jacu Strauss

On first impression, few would guess that Jacu Strauss, the young, handsome creative director of the Pulitzer Amsterdam, was born in a rural village in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert. But Strauss has been innovating and moving his entire life, having lived in New Zealand, London and Amsterdam. With that knowledge, it becomes less of a shock that Strauss was able to transform the Pulitzer from a hotel with beautiful bones, but not much else, into one of the city’s most stylish urban escapes.

The decorating wunderkind, who previously worked at British design house Tom Dixon and is responsible for the whimsical Mondrian London, spent years researching the history of each of the 25 canal houses that make up the hotel, sourcing antique furnishings from around Europe, designing custom pieces and surveying every detail of the guest rooms, none of which are exactly alike. Giving careful consideration to the structural difficulties of combining so many buildings, Strauss created a patchwork quilt–like structure that is a true representation of its parts (different carpets and wall colors denote the boundaries of the formerly individual houses).

Here, Indagare speaks with Strauss about his favorite home furnishing stores in Amsterdam, his journey from South Africa to Europe and his passion for travel. 

Related: First Look at the Pulitzer Amsterdam

What destinations inspire you most as a designer?

It depends on the context and whether it is for business or pleasure or I am traveling alone or with friends. I grew up in a rural part of South Africa and perhaps because of that I am excited by the energy of big cities like London and New York. I enjoy returning to these cities to see how much they are changing and evolving in all aspects, not just design. In cities, change can be very obvious, but oftentimes there are subtle changes that you can only see if you are familiar with the place.

How did you incorporate elements of the original canal houses into the renovated Pulitzer Hotel? The beauty of the buildings was always there. The previous scheme just tried to mask the imperfections, and by doing so, masked the character and uniqueness of the architecture. Each of the 25 buildings (some dating back as far as 400 years) has its own unique history and I wanted to celebrate that.

When redesigning the hotel, we treated each building almost independently in order to showcase the charm and quirks of each one. By doing this we were able to turn what was seen as awkward, like the maze of staircases and corridors linking all the buildings, into something uniquely beautiful. Now, when guests explore the hotel, they are experiencing four centuries of history.

We also wanted to highlight the lives of the building’s past occupants. Each piece of furniture in the rooms has been designed to reflect what someone may have left behind, whether that be from the 1600s or the 1960s.

Related: Top Tables Amsterdam

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]A classic king room designed by Jacu Strauss at the Hotel Pulitzer A classic king room at the Hotel Pulitzer[/caption]

You've traveled and lived all around the world - what drew you to Amsterdam and what enticed you to stay? Amsterdam is grand but it also has such a lovely understated quality about it–as do those who live there. I see this in the locals’ positive and friendly attitude. Amsterdam is not a museum, it is alive and there is constant activity everywhere you go.

It was also impossible for me to turn down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a property like the Pulitzer. The complex nature of the hotel and its 25 buildings meant that it needed an unprecedented hands-on approach, and so I spent the better part of three years living there.

What are your favorite shops in Amsterdam for antiques and home decor? One of the great pleasures of living in Amsterdam was being able to incorporate vintage and antique items into the refurbishment of the Pulitzer. I found a variety of sources both in the city and beyond. In Amsterdam there is an amazing antique market called Antiekcentrum Amsterdam (Elandsgracht 109). It is the Netherlands' largest permanent antiques market and there are over 50 art, antique, vintage and other curiosities dealers. Like the Pulitzer, it is a maze and rather fun to get lost in. Other more contemporary showrooms worth a visit include the Lensvelt Amsterdam headquarters (Herengracht 178), which showcases a variety of works from different designers in a canal house. I also fell in love with an eccentric furniture gallery called Galerie K.I.S. (Paleisstraat 107), which showcases and sells prototypes and work by design students, amongst other things. Beyond Amsterdam, I found terrific online antique dealers by using the Dutch eBay equivalent: Marktplaats. I also would drive outside the city to visit to Piet Hein Eek in Eindhoven and FabriekNL in Waalwijk, for amazing vintage pieces. (Both cities are about a two-hour drive from the city center).

Related: Five Questions for... Michael S. Smith

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"]A canal view of Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam A canal view of Hotel Pulitzer[/caption]

In all your travels, what would you consider your most transformative travel moment? It was when I moved to London shortly after I turned 18. I had just finished high school and coming to London was my first international trip. Unsurprisingly, it was a huge shock to go from a small town in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert to one of the biggest cities in the world. My first job was at a major bank in the city, and while I initially did not enjoy it, it allowed afforded me some financial freedom and I was able to travel throughout the UK, Europe and beyond during my weekends.

I got a taste of the world and its enormity, and developed a passion for traveling. I had only planned to stay in London for a year and return to South Africa to pursue more creative routes, but I ended up never going back. Instead, I choose to live, study and work in several places all over the world including New Zealand and, of course, most recently, Amsterdam.

Related: Amsterdam Destination Report

Published onOctober 21, 2016

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