Visiting Bibi van der Velden in her canalside studio is like stepping into a particularly light and airy Aladdin’s cave, where every surface is covered in intriguing objects, from skulls to insects, all glittering with precious stones. The playful, unpretentious aesthetic reflects the imagination and eclectic interests of the designer, who approaches everything she creates with a sense of humour and an original eye. The Soho House Amsterdam founder member was the perfect person to offer an insight into the style of the city and her favourite hangouts.

‘My parents are Dutch, I was born in New York and then we moved to England, but I always had a very strong connection with Amsterdam and family here. The father of my mother had a company which was connected to clothes; they used to own the house that Anne Frank lived in and they donated it to the city, so there have always been strong ties to Amsterdam. I have been living here now for the past 20 years. I used to live a little further along this canal in the top two floors of a storage house from 1609 with ladder staircases. We called it the ‘upside-down boat’. It was very quaint, a lovely place to live. We came back for the studio and we’ve been here for a few years.

Dutch people have always been very open to other cultures - look at 17th and 18th century sea trading. That’s something I think you notice on the streets as well, the atmosphere is very relaxed, it’s more like a big village than a city. People are on their bikes, if I compare it to London you really notice the difference especially with a child – here it’s more go with the flow, the quality of life is really good and you’re in nature very easily. We have a little boat, we take the canals out to where you can swim, there are lots of fields. The people make Amsterdam but it’s also very much the architecture, the fact that it’s so small and surrounded by nature, it’s a unique place to live.'

Amsterdam Style

'The look of the city itself was defined by the fact that it’s all 17th and 18th century architecture, which is fantastic but of course has been adapted as well. It’s also very much defined by water, there’s so much going on; boating, when it freezes in winter everyone ice skates on the water – it’s really magical. The style of the people has a bit of an alternative edge - you’re overdressed very easily in Amsterdam! It’s very casual and people love mixing vintage and streetwear. Especially with jewellery, you 'down dress' it – the bigger the piece, the more torn your jeans are!

Jewellery is very powerful. I see it as these pillars that you can map out someone’s life with; when you get married, when you have your first child. What I find so interesting with jewellery, especially if it’s very personal – I do a lot of one-off pieces and commissioned work – is that it has a transformational quality. When someone comes in, my quest is to find the perfect piece and if you hit that right note you can literally see a physical transformation take place – the way they hold themselves, the sparkle in their eye.'

The Power of Jewellery

'I try to put a lot of meaning into the pieces that I make, the materials that I use. When I’m making something for a person you’re connecting their story to the piece that you’re making and also to the future that the piece will have. From a technical perspective it’s connected to sculpting, just in a smaller dimension. Those two are very complimentary to each other – sculpting is very physical, so if I’m working with a piece of stone, it’s hard labour, while this is more meditative. Whether you cast something small in gold, or big in bronze, it’s the same technique.

If you look back 15, 20 years ago, fashion jewellery was doing all these experimental things using unreal materials, but fine jewellery was always a bit classical and stodgy. There’s a group of designers or artists who have bridged that gulf in a certain way. For me detail is very important; a ring that you can open – there’s a tiny little bird between the branches and then his nest of little pearl eggs is over here. I think that humour and detail is super important, it should be something that is fun, not serious and boring.'

A Perfect Day

'My ideal day would definitely involve going to the biological market on the Noordermarkt - early because it can get really busy - getting some nice fresh food, making a picnic and taking our little antique boat through the canals an area a little bit outside the city. Having a swim, coming back, maybe going to Amsterdam Noord which is on the north side, where my brother who’s a film maker is based. They’ve got a really good taqueria called Coba, so maybe having a quick taco over there, coming back to the centre...'

Insider Tips

'I love how you can come into the city when the weather is warm and just feel this buzz in the air. I always prefer those evenings where you think, ok we’ll just see what happens (although they have become rarer since I had kids) and you get home at 5am after the most brilliant night ever. Maybe dinner at Maris Piper; there’s so much going on – openings, friends like The Wundercammer, who are doing the flowers for Soho House, doing their pop up shops. Just seeing what’s going on and where the evening takes you.'

'My favourite view is probably from the water because then you see details that you usually don’t see; if you look up there’s so much detailing and craft, these beautiful facades of the houses, the way that they’re built especially on the top, the small sculptures.'

'I’m looking forward to using the House as my hub, I’m a swimmer so I’m very much looking forward to the pool. Cecconi's is one of my favourite restaurants in London so that fact it’s going to be there is great, the gym – I’m not a ‘gymmy’ kind of person but this is a good excuse! I hope that you'll just be able to go there, off the cuff when you have an hour free. We’re missing something in this part of town. I think it will contribute a lot to the atmosphere in Amsterdam, there’s a lot of stuff going on and it think it’s a very positive thing. The Bungehaus where Soho House Amsterdam is, there’s a lot of history that goes with that place – in the ‘70s the students occupied it for quite a long time, but what Soho House did brilliantly is they left the building in its splendour and restored what had to be restored. It’s not someone coming in, breaking down half of it, building something new, it’s very much in harmony with the original architecture.'

Soho House Amsterdam

With bedrooms, a rooftop pool, a floor of club space and a Cecconi's our new House in the Bungehuis on the Spuistraat is now open.