In the early 20th century, six shipping companies decide to join forces and build a shared head office, where they can sell tickets for voyages by sea to the Dutch East Indies, Africa and other destinations. Prins Hendrikkade is an excellent location: close to Oostelijke Handelskade, the quay where the ships dock and depart from. Belief in shipping is sky-high at the time, since controlling the seas means controlling trade. The envisaged building must therefore exude splendour and strength. In 1912 architect Van der Mey is appointed to design this symbolic structure.
Van der Mey draws inspiration from the Art Nouveau movement and gives it a distinctly Dutch twist. Expressive dynamism, lavish ornamentation and colourful embellishments characterise this style, later known as the Amsterdam School. Van der Mey invites colleagues to work on the project, turning it into a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, or total work of art. The team of young artists applies maritime motifs liberally, even in the smallest details. Waves, sea creatures and ships appear almost everywhere: not only in stained-glass windows, sculpture work and marble but also in furniture and fittings such as carpets, chairs and wallpaper. It takes three years to complete the first phase of the Scheepvaarthuis (Dutch for ‘House of Shipping’).
Today, the building is known as the Grand Hotel Amrâth and is the only five-star hotel in Amsterdam with a Dutch parent company. Practically no two rooms are identical, because the Scheepvaarthuis was not originally built as a hotel. But what all the rooms and suites have in common is that they exude the atmosphere and grandeur of a rich maritime past. Many bedrooms feature original wall finishes, ceilings and furniture in the Amsterdam School style, and all are tastefully designed with a touch of class.