The Marvelous Mokum


Martin Kobus shares Amsterdam’s modern magic

A view of a modern houseboat that Martin Kobus and Chris Bergin toured.


In the late 12th century, Amsterdam was established as a small fishing village, then later, in the 17th century, it became one of the most important ports in the world due to the development of canals and innovative trade practices. Now the most populated city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is a global leader in social consciousness, transportation, contemporary art and design while remaining true to its historical roots. Bay Area interior designer Martin Kobus sheds light on how a recent visit to the city reignited his own Dutch sense of design.

How did growing up in Amsterdam inspire your career?  In many ways. For one, it can be very drab and rainy in the Netherlands, therefore I have always focused on making spaces brighter in a simple, calm and luxurious way. The culture there inspires us to source new technology and craftsmanship in our desisign choices, furnishings and art, something that is at the heart of the design community in Amsterdam right now.

There has always been a heightened attention to small space design, functionality and form because homeowners have to pay taxes according to the width of their home. As a result, the city is graced with narrow and tall houses. This is a key inspiration for our city-based designs. Lastly, the connection with the water and invoking an indoor setting that highlights and complements the outdoors is always a goal with each project.

How would you describe the current design climate in Amsterdam?  It’s incredibly exciting there right now. Amsterdam is a little incubator of design where local and global talent are planting their roots. The city’s heritage clearly informs the local style and design-pure forms, where old techniques are being reinvented into new forms for living. You’re smacked in the face with this as soon as you land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where you’re greeted with Dutch designer Maarten Baas’s Real Time series—a fresh take on the classic grandfather clock showing videos where the hands of time are literally moved in real time.

a chandelier in the reception interior of the Andaz Amsterdam by Marcel Wanders.

Did this trip influence any current projects?  Yes! We are now working on an exclusive Martin Kobus tiny house inspired by the houseboats in Amsterdam.

How do you feel Amsterdam’s liberal culture influences the local style?  There is a playfulness and experimentation in all forms. It’s an homage to the old with a modern appeal through ingenuity. It’s clear that socially engaged design helps foster a sense of community and cultivates conditions of positive well-being.

What do you feel designers could take away from a trip to Amsterdam?  The city’s architecture and juxtaposition of classic restoration with modern materials is flawless. Those same modern twists appear in fashion, dining, hotels, museums and more. It is a wonderful place to experience a haven of creativity in places like the Nine Streets, which have a new generation of small shops that showcase individual craftsmanship, with all local Dutch artisans, a new global mecca for design.

A sculpture by Joseph Klibansky floating over a reflecting pool in front of the Rijksmuseum