The first Australian gay couple to marry have renovated a penthouse in Amsterdam west that was reportedly a high-class brothel in its past life, writes Danny Corvini.
Former residents of Melbourne, Darren Reynoldson, 51, and Thomas Lexmond, 56, tied the knot in a 17th-century canal house in Amsterdam in April 2001, the month that same-sex marriage became legal in The Netherlands and the first-ever Australian gay couple to do so.
Some 17 years later in the 205-square-metre penthouse that they bought in Amsterdam west, the couple despair at the lack of progress of marriage equality and the ever-spiralling house prices back in Australia.
“How would we be able to afford something like this in central Melbourne or Sydney?” ponders Thomas, as we sit in their open-plan living space with a gin-and-tonic in hand.
Visiting an Australia that hasn’t achieved marriage equality makes you feel “like you’re not considered to be a full citizen somehow,” says Darren.
The penthouse that we survey is a starkly different scene to the one that Darren and Thomas found in 2011.
“It was all gold, black and red,” says Thomas wryly. “One of the bedrooms had an open spa attached to it and the toilets had black floor tiles and gold door handles. The walls were black mirrors and all the previous tenant had done was cover it over.”
Since moving to Amsterdam in 2000, the couple had been renting apartments further out west.
Like most ex-pats, they had dreams of buying a house within Amsterdam’s historic UNESCO-listed canal ring.
While the penthouse is positioned just a couple of blocks outside the western edge of the ring road – which many believe divides Amsterdam “proper” from its outer suburbs – it could offer a roof terrace with a wide panorama, a double-garage (a rarity in the city of bikes) and a saving of about 100,000 euro (A$150,000) merely for being outside the ring.
Yet, it’s just a 20-minute bike ride or 12-minute train ride into the centre, says Darren. “We’ve got friends that are reluctant come to see us because we’re too far out of town!” he laughs. “But by Sydney or Melbourne standards, that’s really close.”
The purchase came at the height of the global financial crisis and so their initial bid – just under the asking price of 600,000 euro (A$900,000) – was quickly accepted.
The couple engaged an interior-designer friend and continued to rent for an additional five months while the penthouse underwent renovations.
Their initial 100,000 euro (A$150,000) renovating budget was exceeded by 50,000 euro (A$75,000) – but Thomas says that none of the new features were “frightfully expensive”.
However, as Thomas stands at a whopping 6’6-foot and Darren is 6’4-foot, a new kitchen was needed with extra-high benches. The tiny kitchen that it replaced was only big enough to use a microwave, says Thomas, hinting that that’s because it was a brothel.
There’s also an ultra-large bathtub that both men can squeeze into at once.
“That’s where I warm up in the winters,” says Darren of the deep tub framed by Belgian hard stone.
The apartment features ‘traffic white’ wall-paint to highlight their artworks while the bathrooms and main bedroom feature Rijks grey hue – a colour that was released by paint company Sikkens during the ten-year restoration of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
Both bedrooms and an office with a balcony are situated on the lower entry level while the top floor is dedicated to indoor and outdoor entertaining. The living space is laid with the widest-available French oak floors and it flows to a roof terrace with an in-built timber seat and dozens of flowering plants.
There’s another penthouse perched atop the tower – but both sets of owners agreed to reduce the high outdoor walls that divided their roof terraces.
“If I’d seen it like this, I would’ve thought: ‘I’m not sure I want to share a terrace with my neighbour’,” admits Darren. “But we’ve become such good friends and we’re both such keen gardeners. We share tips and I look after her place when she’s gone.”
Darren and Thomas now enjoy leafy district views that span from the skyscrapers in the Zuidas business district in the south to the wind turbines dotting Amsterdam’s north-west.
“Amsterdam is a village that gets away with pretending it’s a city,” says Darren.
Another version of this interview appeared on news.domain.com.au in August 2017.