Museumcafé Frans Hals MuseumHaarlem 2009
Deconstructing a work of art
The museum café in the Frans Hals Museum has gone back to its original tripartite layout: a row of three small houses. Interior designer Maurice Mentjens gave each house its own colour palette in shades of grey. As an accent he used the colours of the historical Dutch flag, orange, white and blue. The design is intended to honour the sober yet sophisticated schutterstukken (group portraits of civilian guards) by the Dutch master Frans Hals.
The Frans Hals Museum is housed in the Oudemannenhuis (Old Men’s Alms House), a tranquil group of 17th-century homes surrounding a courtyard. In order to add a museum café to the building, three adjoining houses dating from the early 20th century were bought and broken through. Twenty years later, the interior had become very dated because of its lowered ceilings, obscured passageways and fragmented space. Johan Jacobs, architectural historian for the municipality of Haarlem, proposed restoring the former layout and making the structure recognisable as three distinct houses,while respecting the existing floor plan.
Palette of grey
In his search for inspiration, Maurice Mentjens looked first at the paintings of Frans Hals, one of the Old Dutch Masters, who experienced his greatest successes in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. “To my surprise, I realised that the interiors in his paintings are all decorated very soberly, almost minimalistically. This is true of both his individual portraits and his large schutterstukken. The underlit, purposely vague decors in which the characters are placed are actually always composed of the same basic tones:antique white, grey, tan, dark grey, and black.”
This characteristic sobriety was carried over into the interior design. Each former house received its own corresponding palette of grey shades. The first space with its alcoves has been painted in three shades of grey, the second in the historical shade “horn white” (a pale off-white) with light grey, and the third, the lecture room, has been done completely in black.
The wall decorations, also in black and white, consist of halftone prints of Frans Hals paintings, large enough to fill an entire wall. The print on the wall by the kitchenette is dominated by shades of white, while the version in the lecture room shows a preponderance of black.
The colour concept also uses three particular colours for contrast. Mentjens chose them with great care after examining five famous schutterstukken, including the Banquet of the Officers of the Cavaliermen Civic Guard (1627). In this Hals work, the officers of the Cavaliermen Civic Guard stand out against a grey background, decorated with sashes in orange, white and blue. These are the colours of the various companies of the Civic Guard, and also the colours of the flag of the States of Holland, the governing body of the County of Holland until 1795. This combination of symbolic colours is present in the new museum café in the fabrics used for the benches along the walls.
An existing bottleneck was put to good use in planning the new layout of the museum café. The housing for the transformer juts halfway into the first two houses. Instead of trying to disguise it, Mentjens decided to take advantage of this bulky structure by using it as a bar. The addition of beams to the walls surrounding the unit makes it resemble an old half-timbered house. The beams themselves serve as bottle-racks.
In order to combine all the individual details into a coherent whole, pale oak floors have been used throughout, complemented by oak doors, as well as oak shutters in the lecture room. Teardrop lamps add a playful touch to this relatively sober, almost calculated interior. The result is a three-dimensional deconstruction and transmutation of a sumptuous schutterstuk from that glorious period of Dutch history that is the Golden Age.