The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Van Gijn House

Upper-Class Living around 1900

The house of Simon van Gijn (1836–1922) in Dordrecht was built in 1729, and it became his property in 1864, after he married Cornelia Vriesendorp in the same year. Between 1886 & 1889, they had their residence renovated, and the only original rooms remaining since then are the kitchen & the grand reception room; the latter is noted for its Oudenaarde tapestries depicting scenes from Battista Guarini’s 16th-century tragicomedy Il pastor fido. The refurbished rooms on the other side of the corridor are the neo-Régence-style Red Salon, where Mrs Van Gijn received her guests, the dining room in neo-Renaissance style with a modest conservatory attached, and the living room in the style of Louis XVI facing the garden. The rooms have been arranged to look as though the Van Gijns have just left & could return at any moment. (It would scare the hell out of me if they did.)

Simon van Gijn’s study at Van Gijn House
Simon van Gijn’s study

A lawyer by training & a banker by profession, Van Gijn was above all a collector. His main focus was on historical prints, but he also collected ceramics & porcelain, among other things. After his wife died at the age of 48 in 1889, he applied himself to the catalogue of his print collection, the Atlas Van Gijn. His study & library on the first floor, both in neo-Renaissance style, are where he spent his days with his collection & the portrait of his late wife. The master bedroom, at the back of the house, has a special feature: a bath, which was installed around 1883, immediately after the city got waterworks — in other mansions baths would not become common until around 1910. Among the additions made after the house became a museum in 1925 are the toy collection in the attic, with toys mainly from the 19th century, and a period room with exquisite gilt-leather wall coverings dating back to 1686.

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Van Gijn House was built in 1729 by order of alderman Johan van Neurenberg, a member of one of Dort’s leading families, on the parcel of his parental home. After his death in 1749, it belonged to the families Rees, Pit & Repelaer, who successively obtained the house through inheritance, until it was sold in 1864, by private contract, to Simon van Gijn. Van Gijn remained childless, and he bequeathed his house to the city’s historical society, of which he was a founding member, to be used as a museum.


Gilded leather is made by applying a layer of silver leaf on leather sheets. To prevent the silver from oxidizing, two coats of varnish are applied, which give it its golden colour. The recently installed period room at Van Gijn House is not its only room with walls hung in gilded leather: in Van Gijn’s study, above the wainscoting, are 19th-century wall hangings of gilded leather that are based on a 17th-century pattern. The wallcovering in the library looks similar, but is in fact an imitation on paper.


The bedroom is decorated with Louis-XVI-style flock wallpaper that dates back to 1729, although on one of the walls a replica from 2001 is applied. Flocking is a technique in which silk or woollen fibres are trapped on paper to produce a raised, tactile finish. The process involves sifting the fibres onto glue-covered paper, which is beaten from beneath with wooden sticks until the last of the fibres have stuck.