When you're a couple in work as well as life, how do you agree on the way your home should look? If you're Dax Roll and Joyce Urbanus of Amsterdam-based design studio Nicemakers, the answer is short and sweet: just be nice. We visited the Soho House Amsterdam members in their 18th century apartment in the Jordaan area of the city, where they told us about their shared vision for creating interiors that feel loved and lived in.
Joyce ‘We fell in love and during the first period of our relationship I started working for myself. Working alone is not the most inspiring thing so we were always chatting about all sorts of things and we really enjoyed doing that - it already felt like we were creating. We were already doing a small project together and we popped by an antique market somewhere close - the first we'd ever visited together. We saw the same items within this complete mess and had this exact moment of ‘oh this is great for there’ and figured out that we had the exact same eye. That’s when we decided we should do this together. So then we started Nicemakers. But we did say we’re going to work together, which is super nice, but our relationship comes first, so if one of us has a feeling this is not the way to go, we just ring the bell and we stop it. That was always the rule and it still is, if one of us doesn’t want to do this, our relationship comes first.’
Joyce ‘We are very much designers who really create something that completely matches our client and we don’t want to push our own style too much, so I think when people come to our home then you can definitely see how it is when you just let us loose. That’s I think the 100% expression of our aesthetic.’ Dax ‘When we design a space we design it from the perspective of how you use the space, not just how it looks in a picture and that’s what we do for ourselves and for our clients as well. When we design a space we see the client living there.’
Dax ‘In this apartment we took out all the doors and replaced the two doors in the bathroom with sliding doors which are almost always open – when you’re in the shower you can listen to music and look at the plants on the patio.' Joyce ‘Light is a very big feature – if you have a small space, put lights in every little corner to bring it out more. The mirrors are something we added a bit later and this detail of the mirror in the space in between the windows, you often see that in Amsterdam. Every time we do a project we add this little detail.’ Dax ‘The reflection makes the space look bigger and at night it’s nice because you see the lights and the candles. We love the smoky finish.’
Joyce ‘The glass lamp – that’s an item that Dax found.’‘I found it about 10 years ago, before we were together. I had my first flat in Amsterdam and found it in a second-hand shop, I paid 15 euros and it’s really beautiful.’ Joyce ‘It’s hand blown golden glass, you rarely see that, so it’s a special item. One night it dropped down, it was the biggest shock, the cat did it! But it survived. So that’s very special, especially because Dax found it.
Another piece is this lighting feature by Gaetano Sciolari - an Italian lighting designer – from the 1970s. We found several of these lamps – this is actually two, we connected them. When these lights are not on the home doesn’t feel complete. They bring a bit of sparkle which we love.'
Joyce ‘The Jordaan neighbourhood is where the workers used to live back in the day. On Saturday morning there is a great market where we go to get our groceries.’ Dax ‘We love the fact it’s almost like a village within the city. Our favourite restaurants are within walking distance. Every day we start with a morning walk to the office along the Keizersgracht and we end the day with a walk back home.’
Joyce ‘They say that people never have curtains! Tourists love to make an evening walk along the canal and look inside.’ Dax ‘That’s what’s really nice about Amsterdam, when you walk around the canals, every night it’s like looking at a different movie. Sometimes people are at home with the lights on, it’s changing all the time.’
The Art of Collaboration
Dax ‘I would say our home is a true collaboration, no areas of tension! Everything is just how it’s supposed to be and how we both saw the space.’ Joyce ‘When we’re fed up with the layout of the art and the styling, sometimes there’s a night, let’s say Friday night, we turn up the music, have a glass of wine and together we just move things around. I might come home on a Sunday afternoon and Dax would have changed it and it looks just how I like it. All the pieces that are here we both love, so you can’t go wrong.’
No Place like Home
Joyce ‘I hope we never leave here, I love it. When we’re here we just pause, everything stops. We talk a bit about the day, but that’s it.’ Dax ‘We’re always happy to come home from our travels, we call it our big hotel suite, it has everything. This place is definitely our escape. We almost never work at home. We don’t host big dinners here, we mostly have dinner here together, cook our own meals at home, we love it, sometimes hold little parties but that’s mostly spontaneous.’ Joyce ‘That’s a nice thing about living in the city centre, and everyone bikes, so whenever there’s a nice night and people are out they pop by, especially in summer when you have the windows open and have the summer breeze.’
Joyce ‘What’s most important to us is that the spaces we design don't feel new. We had a couple of openings, in a bar and in one of the penthouse projects we did, where people said to us when they arrived for the first time it felt like it had already been there for a long time. It feels very natural, considered, but not contrived.’ Dax ‘It feels like the restaurant had been open for a long time already, or people had been living there for a couple of years and had already travelled the world and collected some nice art and objects.’
Joyce ‘When we did one of our penthouse projects we handpicked all the items throughout the space, a 600-square meter house, and the clients were there unwrapping every piece and they said it felt like unwrapping presents for Christmas, but also at the same time like these items were already theirs. They felt already at home the first night, it felt like they were always there.’ Dax ‘We do try to have the client involved in the design process as well, giving them options, so they have selected items themselves.’
Joyce ‘We found some amazing suppliers through Instagram because they liked us, then we looked at what they did and sent a message. The whole world is at your feet in that sense so it’s very easy to find people who make and create beautiful things and find each other, it’s a connection point. We never look at images on Pinterest and Instagram as our inspiration, it’s great to find images that represent your idea, and use that to show the client, but it’s never ‘ok this is the style let’s do that.’
Dax ‘We have a beautiful office in one of the canal houses here, with spaces that all look slightly different, but it’s all Nicemakers' style and atmosphere, when you walk in you know immediately that you’re in the Nicemakers world. It doesn’t look like a boring office, it’s full of art, nice colours and fabrics, you could live there. People ask if we live there! We say you spend most of your time in the office so why not treat it like your home?’ Joyce ‘It’s also about positivity and the right energy. We are very fortunate to have a lot of requests so we’re able to find those clients that really match us and the other way round, and this brings a super good vibe to every project; we find that very important. When it comes to building our team we spend a lot of time creating that right energy; that’s the aspect that we find super important.’
Joyce ‘We’ve been in quite a few, but Berlin was super nice, we had an upgrade to the biggest suite which was so fun!’ Dax ‘The drinks at the bar in New York are super good, you know that the food is good wherever you go and you can go there for breakfast and have a great start to the day but you can also end your day at the bar and that’s what I really like.’ Joyce ‘You also loved Barcelona, right? And Istanbul…!’ [laughs] ‘They all have something special. I think when it comes to Amsterdam you can feel that the city misses a space where people can come by themselves and then meet people they know. It used to be a bit like that but now people do want to meet up but they don’t really know where to go, so when it comes to Soho House everyone hopes that this will be a place where you can just drop by, see someone over there, have a coffee, do a bit of work, it’s like this social space.’ Dax ‘People are spread out over the city, and hopefully Soho House Amsterdam will bring back that club house feeling.
See Nicemakers in episode 4 of new Netflix series Amazing Interiors.