Every story has a beginning ... The story of the Smallest House begins in the year 1738.

This page tells the history of this exceptional small historical monument and its historic surroundings.

Learn more about the rich history of this small house by scrolling down!

Continue to the story!
Chapel of the convent of the brothers of Saint Paul (1544)

The history of the Smallest House of Amsterdam is related to that of the Walloon Church and the East India House (Oost Indisch Huis). The Walloon Church is located behind the Oude Hoogstraat. You will find its main entrance in the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. Build in 1409, the church originally was the chapel of the convent of the brothers of Saint Paul.

This etching shows us how the convent must have looked like back in the year 1409. The wall to the northside (right below) is currently the Oude Hoogstraat. The wall to the westside (left) is currently the Kloveniersburgwal.

In 1603, the Dutch chamber of the VOC used part of the Stadsbushuis for warehousing. Two years later they took over the entire building. Because there was hardly any office space available, the VOC decided to build new headquarters next to the Stadsbushuis. This East India House was built right where the old orchard of the convent once were. The construction was finished in 1606.

This etching is very special. It not only gives us a front view of the East India House but also the Kloveniersburgwal (the canal left of the image). This was the city's outer ramparts. Ships moored here to load goods and provisions. Behind the East India House, at the right side, we see the roof of the Walloon Church.

The alley which is visible on the right side in the etching, is not accessable anymore as it is hidden behind the closed doors of the Waalschekerkspoort (gate to the Walloon Church) in the Oude Hoogstraat. At some point in time, the Smallest House of Amsterdam is build next to this gate.

East India House anno 1606
Gate of the Walloon Church

Next to the Smallest House, there's another familiar icon of Amsterdam, the gateway to the Walloon Church. This gateway, designed by Hendrik de Keyser (1565-1621) in 1616, served as a passage for funeral services.

In the book 'Modern architectural buildings of our time' (1631), Dutch painter and architect, Salomon de Bray, described this port:

Waele-Kerck-Poort Dese Poort staet in de oude Hoog-straet omtrent het Oost-Indisch Huys, en komt voor een sekeren gangh, door de welcke men gaet in de Waele of Fransche kerck: dese is in zijn geheel van een çierlijcken en vasten stant, vol vercierlijcke en seltsame vindinghe, waer in de sonderlinge vindelijckheyd des Meesters te mercken is, hebbende de Pilaren ghegheven heel nieuwe vercierlijcke Capiteelen, nochtans alsoo dat deselve met hare krollen eenighsins de maniere van Ionischen wercke verthoonen, oock mede is 't heel vreemt en bedenckelijck de Arhitrave also ghebroken, en halvelingh in de fries te springen, en weder de fries boven dien, welcke van een geheel ongewoonen toog is, boven dese op de Cornice tusschen de gebroken Frontespice, komt het Stadts wapen met de Keyserlijcke kroone te staen, 't welck een seer aenghename heerlijckheydt en goeden stant geeft, sulckx dat dese Poort een merckelijcke verciersel voor dese straet is.

The painting at the left shows that in the original design, the uppermost ornaments were placed in opposite direction of each other. The Imperial Crown and the entrance of bars disapeared in the centuries to come.

At some point in time, the skulls on both sides were also removed, but in the nineties of the 20th century they were put back. However, instead of looking sideways, the skulls are now facing forward.

This etching gives us a view of the Oude Hoogstraat as seen from the Kloveniersburgwal. The main building on the left side is the former Stadsbushuis which has been demolished in the year 1890. On the right side of this building we see the East India House. Next to that, we can distinguish a little gate. This gate leads to the Old Walloon Church.

All though there is no trace of it in this etching yet, at some point in time, the Smallest House of Amsterdam will appear on the right side of this gate. In this etching we see a large family house standing on that exact location. Presumably somewhere around 1730, this has been replaced by the 2 houses that are currently nrs 20 and 22 in the Oude Hoogstraat.

East India house at Oude Hoogstraat seen from the Kloveniersburgwal. Right of entry (number 24) the gate to Walloon Church. (1664)
East India house at Oude Hoogstraat seen from the Kloveniersburgwal. Right of entry (number 24) the gate to Walloon Church. (1723)

Another view from the Oude Hoogstraat, as seen from the Kloveniersburgwal, but this time it is 56 years later. This sketch shows us very clearly how the situation in the street was. At the right side, almost in the corner, we see the small gate of the Walloon Church again. The house next to that does not exist anymore. That is where we can find the Smallest House in Amsterdam currently.

This document is a declaration of purchase, which says that in 1733 the house with the gablestone of King David was bought by the Spelder family from the Van Soest family.

This house is the house we saw earlier on the etchings, standing next to the gate of the Walloon church. Presumably, this house has been torn down and replaced by 2 new houses: one of those being 'the Smallest House in Amsterdam'.

Purchase Agreement between family Van Soest and Spelder.
Build Oude Hoogstraat 20

In 1738, the Smallest House in Amsterdam is mentioned for the first time in the archives of the city of Amsterdam. The city, being the owner of the plot, pays taxes for it.

There is no mentioning of the family house with the gablestone of King David. We suspect it has been torn down one year earlier.

The remaining plot was bought by the city of Amsterdam, who build a very small ground flour house.

Although there is no image available of the small house from this period, the archives of Amsterdam do mention that the house was let to the watchmaker J.Tenking. This gentleman payed a rent of 150 guilders per year for it.

This engraving is a page from the book 'Het Menselyk Bedryf' which was written by Jan Luyken and his son Caspar in the year 1694. The book is an anthology of craftmanship and skilled labour in the 17th century. The engraving gives us an impression of the interior of a watch makers workshop and how the Smallest House could have looked from the inside.

De Orlosimaaker.
Dat men bereid is, Terwyl het tyd is.

ô Mens beschick uw Zielen Staat,
Terwyl des leevens Uurwerck gaat;
Want als't Gewicht is af geloopen,
Van deese korte leevens tyd,
Daar is geen Ophaal weer te koopen,
Voor kunst noch Geld, noch Achtbaarheid.
The watchmaker
The East India House at the Oude Hoogstraat, seen from the Kloveniersburgwal. Right the corner house Kloveniersburgwal 46, left the former Stadsbushuis. C. Philips Jacobsz. (1767)

This etching dates from the year 1767. For the first time the Smallest House is documented in a picture. The etching shows us the Oude Hoogstraat from the Kloveniersburgwal. From the left we see first the former Stadsbushuis, then the East India House, next the gate from the Walloon Church and then...almost in the corner we see a very small house, drawn in just a few pen strokes.

At that time it was even smaller than it is now: it was just the ground floor covered with a roof. The extra floors were build on later in time. Next to the tiny house, we see another 'new' building. This is currently Oude Hoogstraat 20.

This drawing from the year 1768 by Reinier Vinkeles contains a lot of very interesting elements: first of all we finally see how the Smallest House really looked like more than 200 years ago. It is clearly the workshop of a craftsman.

Inside someone is working, outside the goods are on display. Probably no longer a watchmaker, but who could have been working there? A shoemaker, hatter or tailor?

We also see a funeral procession entering the gate to the Walloon Church. The churches bell tower is seen in the background. The large building on the left side in the East India House again. The building in the right corner, across the Smallest House is currently Oude Hoogstraat 19. At that time it was a backery.

A funeral procession at the gate of the Walloon Church between Oude Hoogstraat 24 and 22. Seen from Bethani‘ndwarsstraat, number 17. Vinkeles R. (1768)
The East India House at Oude Hoogstraat 24, towards to the Kloveniersburgwal. Vinkeles R. (1768)

In the 18th century, the Oude Hoogstraat was a very lifely street. It gave a direct acces from the Dam to the outer ramparts of the city. All kinds of people would walk the Oude Hoogstraat: sailors, from boatmen to captains, on their way to the East India House; housekeepers and servants going to the backery or boucher; merchants inspecting their warehouses and traders settling affaires in the inns while enjoying their pipes.

This drawing (again from R. Vinkeles) could be considered as a photograph of the Oude Hoogstraat in the year 1768, taken from the corner of the Bethaniendwarsstraat towards the Kloveniersburgwal. On the right side we see the East India House, on the left side a wine trader and the inn.

In 1787 Hermanus Petrus Schouten created this etching of the Smallest House in Amsterdam. Here we see the tiny house as it is now: with 2 extra floors, a very tiny attic and a lovely bell gable. This means that between 1768 and 1787 the house was enlarged.

The little building became a miniture version of the majestic canalside houses Amsterdam is so famous for.

We see the house from the Bethaniendwarsstraat. Remarkable is the fact that in the left outside wall, two windows have been placed which will disappear at some point in the 20th century.

Bethaniendwarsstraat. Towards the gate of the Walloon Church in the Oude Hoogstraat. H. P. Schouten (1787)
Oude Hoogstraat anno 1906. Left the entrance of the East India House.

Now we take a leap into time, to the year 1906, the 20th century. Unfortunately we have found no pictures, etchings, paintings or drawings that date back to the 19th century.

This photo is taken in the year 1906 by George Hendrik Breitner and gives us an impression of the Oude Hoogstraat of about a century ago.

The pilars on the left side are from the entrance of the East India House.

History comes alive ... A while ago we received a beautiful photo and mail from Mr Esselaar in which he told about the Smallest House in Amsterdam ...

My father once lived with his mother and sister in that house. My grandfather ran away with the maid and left his wife and children untended.

Yeah, those were the days! My grandmother had a tiny cigar shop. The photo dates from 1918 ...

My father told us occasionally about that harsh time.

Every day, he and his sister went to school in the morning with a 'newspaper', which they had to lose somewhere. Because there was no toilet ...
The Smallest House anno 1918.
Oude Hoogstraat 22 (1938)

A lovely picture of the Smallest House in Amsterdam in the year 1938. The foundation of the house was laid 200 years ago. In those days it was the shop of an optician.

As you can see the windows in the left wall are still there. However, the skulls from the gate have disappeared. What could have happened to them?

In the period 1945-1975, Mr. P. H. Kiers (1898-1984) monthly drew monuments, bridges, courtyards, gates, etc. for a magazine of the Dutch Central Bank. In 1959 the honour fell to the Smallest House in Amsterdam and the Waalenpoort.

For his drawing, Mr. Kiers used different techniques: black chalk, markers, pen, brush, lithographs and gombatik.

Oude Hoogstraat 22 drawing by P.H Kiers (1959)
The Smallest House around 1965.

6 years later... the Sixties. The opticians shop is long gone and a beautiful boutique has taken its place. It was called 'Het Spiegheltje' (the little mirror). These photo's give us a unique inside look of how the boutiques interior looked like in those days.

As you can see, the windows have been removed from the left wall and the skulls are back on the gate!

On 30 April of this year the abdication of Queen Juliana took place in favor of her daughter. During the inauguration of Queen Beatrix in the New Church large squatters riots broke out in the city.

As you can see on the picture, the small house was also one of the many victims of these riots.

Squatters Riots affect the Smallest House (1980).
Flower shop in the Smallest House (1991).

11 years later... the Smallest House in Amsterdam has been transformed into the smallest flower shop of Amsterdam... called 'De Serre' (The Green House).

For the past 12 years, the house served as a residence. On June 15, 2014, 276 years after the start of the first store, the smallest tea shop in Amsterdam was officially opened at this location.

More information about this store can be found here.

Opening tea shop 15 juni 2014.