NIOD is located in a monumental building on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. Apart from the fact that a lot of history is stored and studied in this building, it also has a rich history of its own.
When you stand in front of the building the first thing that strikes you is its width. That is because, before 1890, two buildings stood here: number 380 and 382. But on the icy cold night of 13 January 1888 a raging fire struck the recently decorated building at number 382. Overnight, the building turned into an ice palace and it had to be declared uninhabitable.
After the fire, the owner of the building, a rich tobacco trader named Jacobus Nienhuys (1837-1927), bought the building next door at number 380 and commissioned the architect Abraham Salm to design him a new house.
French Renaissance style
Salm designed the house and façade in the French Renaissance style, a style that was unusual in the Netherlands and in Amsterdam. When it was ready, in 1883, Nienhuys was able to enter his new house through its wide entrance on his horse-drawn coach. That was something quite unique in Amsterdam.
There was no garden, but there was a courtyard and a coach house in the neo-Gothic style. The latter also contained a gas engine which generated electricity to light the house. That too, was quite something at the time.
In addition to the French Renaissance style, the architect used as many other styles as possible so that almost all rooms looked differently. The bathroom, for example, was designed in the Moorish style.
Nienhuys only lived here for a few years, until 1909. The building then lost its habitational function. In 1921 the Deutsche Bank bought the building and drastically changed it. They covered the courtyard to create office space and built two big bank vaults under it. The entry to the vault and the ground floor, where the kitchen once was, were covered in marble.
The rooms on the first floor, with their burl wood and oak panelled walls and beautiful ceilings, were given a different use, but remained intact. The “servants’ stairs”, adjacent to the monumental stairs, were removed to make room for sanitary facilities and smaller vaults were placed in several rooms.
After the Liberation of the Netherlands in 1945 the Dutch State confiscated all German possessions as a start of the war reparations. This also happened to the bank building. For a brief period it hosted a tribunal that tried collaborators and in the 1960s the Agency of the Ministry of Finance moved in.
Before NIOD moved in, in 1997, the building underwent extensive restoration and renovation work. The aim of the restoration was to return as much as possible to the original 19th-century lay-out. The most important innovation was the construction of a library cum reading room where the original courtyard was once located. In addition, the bank vaults were completely stripped and prepared for storing NIOD’s collections.