Amid the narrow streets and drab two-story brick houses of the small Dutch town of Waalwijk, a large interwar factory building with stained-glass windows stands out like some kind of modernist cathedral.
Inside, light filters through the Art Deco–era stained-glass, which depicts industrial workers at their machines rather than a religious scene or some traditional floral pattern. This warm light illuminates a set of cognac-colored leather and teak Elizabeth chairs by Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen, as well as their matching ottomans. These are situated near a curved, black-leather De Sede Non-Stop modular sofa that snakes through the room, arcing toward a pair of glass-bulb chandeliers that evoke suspended clusters of blown bubbles.
It’s a fitting site for the showroom of Morentz, one of the Netherlands’ top dealers in 20th-century furnishings, which are presented here after being restored and reupholstered according to the highest possible standards in the former shoe factory next door. This entry point, a 5,400-square-foot space that was once a worker’s canteen, is just the tippy top of the iceberg.
The bulk of Morentz’s stunning collection, in fact, is in the two buildings beside and to the rear. All told, the dealer has more than 100,000 square feet of showroom, warehouse and workshop space where a team of busy restorers turns mid-century furnishings into exquisitely re-crafted works of modern design.
The esteemed showroom’s collection comprises thousands of chairs, hundreds of dining and coffee tables, scores of sofas, teak and rosewood sideboards and lighting elements dating to around 1950 through the 1980s. Some items are in nearly perfect condition, but the vast majority will be refurbished or reupholstered by the expert furniture restorers on staff.
“Every week, I buy something very interesting, and I don’t know anything about it,” says Matthijs Hoveijn, the founder and owner of Morentz. “That makes me happy every week.”
Hoveijn grew up in Hengelo, in eastern Holland, where he studied business administration at university. While looking for a job after graduation, he collected furniture as a hobby, but soon realized he could deal in these pieces and those like them. “It was a job I could create myself,” he says. When his collection outgrew his home, Hoveijn started selling pieces out of a storage space in Amsterdam’s bohemian de Pijp neighborhood. In 2006, his business having expanded even further, he decided to rent part of a building in Waalwijk, a town about an hour’s drive south of Amsterdam. At the time, the building was still functioning as a Van Haren shoe factory, but the company was gradually relocating to another site. Hoveijn took over more and more space as Van Haren vacated it until he was eventually using the whole warehouse.
“In Dutch, we have the word verzorgd, which means ‘cared for’ — with fine craftsmanship. It suggests you keep the historic background of the piece.”
Originally, Hoveijn called his business FabriekNL, but he renamed it recently in honor of his target customers, the imaginary Mr. and Mrs. Morentz. He describes them as “an international couple who travel around the world and like beautiful things but are very selective.” And, he adds, “Mr. and Mrs. Morentz especially like to have a very good level of service.”
Some of Hoveijn’s mid-century finds, which he sources worldwide, are sold as-is with just minor refinishing or repair, while others “you have to go back down to the wood and start building it up again,” he says. “It requires very fine craftsmanship. When you start working on it, there’s a very thin line. Either the furniture is over that line or it’s still there.”
Restorers at Morentz often reduce couches, chairs and divans to their foundational woodwork, replacing all the stuffing, padding and springs, while maintaining the basic structure of the piece. “We believe that you can also make the furniture too new, and then you miss the touch of the old experience, the sophistication,” he says. “Of course, that depends on the piece. For Italian furniture from the nineteen fifties and sixties, they used a very thick lacquer, and if you take the lacquer off, you can’t get it back.”
Restoring vintage leathers is a Morentz specialty. Ultimately, the amount of restoration is determined by the tastes and desires of the client. Hoveijn’s own preference would usually be to leave some of the patina behind. “Eighty percent is like new, but twenty percent is old touch, something vintage,” he says. “We create a second life for the pieces.”
Restoration is a very fine art, he says, and one he takes very seriously. “In Dutch, we have the word verzorgd, which I think in English means ‘cared for’ — but with fine craftsmanship,” he explains. “It’s a word that suggests that you put a maximum of intention into it, and you keep the historic background of the piece. You don’t kill the soul of it.”
Matthijs Hoveijn shares his thoughts on a few choice pieces