Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Windmills of my Mind, The second in a series on Vernacular Architecture

A beautiful row of Windmills at sunset.
Continuing the thread on vernacular architecture, …and using the Dutch Windmill as a primary example to draw from, the Windmill seems to have played a long and significant part in the life of the Dutch people. These bastions of power have been used in Europe since the Middle Ages and were developed from the 12th century, apparently from technology gained by Crusaders who came into contact with Windmills in the Middle East.

A drawing of Windmills by Van Gogh.
The consumate image of Holland, a Windmill and tulips.
Europe was once awash with Windmills, mainly in Holland, but Europe and the UK too, but it is only in Holland that so many can be seen in so small an area. However, as steam power developed, unreliable wind power was largely abandoned and many were simply left to decay. Built to use wind energy to grind corn, remove excess water from the low-lying districts and to saw timber, these structures were constructed of native brick or thatched with reed, thus using local materials to fill the local industry.

Chesterton Windmill, Warwickshire England.
Everyone loves a Windmill, yes? These elegant sailed towers have been romanticized and immortalized over the years through various mediums - be it oil on canvas, the written word, or the melody. What instantly comes to mind is Hans Christian Andersen’s Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the 70’s pop song Windmills of my Mind, or the much more fabulous remix by Sting as performed in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo.

A production of Balanchine's Don Quixote in Canada 2006.

My fondness for all things Dutch goes back to my childhood. When traveling with my family at the tender age of five, I remember stopping dead in my tracks as I spotted my first Windmill just outside of Amsterdam in the small village of Haarlem. We had traveled there to meet Anne Marie, our Dutch Au Pair, who would be traveling with us for the next several weeks. She had a wonderful black puppy too, although to my dismay that was not part of the deal. Haarlem was also my first introduction to tulips; hand carved wooden clogs (that I still have), and my very own international doll donning the traditional Dutch costume. I’ve always loved the hat!

The famous old Windmill at Haarlem, The Netherlands.
Hand-carved wooden clogs, just like mine.
Truth be told, as a designer of interiors, I am more interested in the guts of these examples of architectural wonder. Unable to find acceptable examples of period rooms in print media, I am forced to visualize Axel Vervoordt’s clean style and the earthy paint colors of Farrow & Ball …how about you? Knowing that the standard “windmill plan” includes a tower that is round at the base (thus giving the house a circular entrance hall) my mind is spinning with ideas. The next 2 floors are rectangular with stairs connecting each and I am awestruck with the challenge of creating, if only in my minds’ eye, an interior steeped in history but akin to a modern lifestyle. Now that project would be a worthy challenge.
A moody photograph of a Windmill interior gleaned from Flickr.
I am somewhat tempted to visit a Windmill myself, as they are now available to rent in many countries throughout the world. That concept may be just too delicious to pass up.

Barbara Ashfield


katiedid said...

I agree! What a fabulous adventure it would be to explore the windmill world and actually stay in one. Great post!

DennyHollandStudio said...

Okay...I've decided now's the time to build my windmill in my backyard!!

Great post, you two!

Kendra Boutell said...

Hi Barbara, I am so glad to have found this lovely post. The Flemish left their windmills in the Azores Islands which can be a very striking red against the green landscape. Kendra