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The Busy Beehive
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The L-Spot
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The Busy Beehive

You might have thought big department stores had no place in future cities. Several famous names have closed down in recent years, including Barneys New York and Debenhams in London. But the Dutch department store chain De Bijenkorf is celebrating its 150th year with ambitious plans for the future.

It all began in 1870 when Jewish businessman Simon Philip Goudsmit opened a modest fabric shop called Magazijn De Bijenkorf (The Beehive Shop) on Amsterdam’s narrow Nieuwendijk. His nephew Isaac took over the business in 1899 and bought up several nearby buildings to create a large department store.

The company expanded to The Hague in 1926 where Amsterdam School architect Piet Kramer was employed to create an impressive modern store with the first escalators in the Netherlands. De Bijenkorf boosted its artistic image by inviting modern Dutch artists such as Mondrian to display their art on the walls. The original 1920s interior has been renovated a couple of times, but customers can still climb the magnificent wood staircase and admire the stained glass windows.

A third Bijenkorf store opened in Rotterdam in 1957 in the heart of the reconstructed city. Designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer, this iconic modernist building has a solid exterior pierced by long ribbon windows. Inside, a sculpture by Henry Moore adds to De Bijenkorf’s image as a store dedicated to contemporary art.

The chain recently reinforced its links with artists by creating an artist’s studio in a disused attic space at the top of the Amsterdam store. Designed by i29 architects, the “Room on the Roof” invites international artists to create works that are then displayed in the shop windows.

For its 150th anniversary, De Bijenkorf invited 150 contemporary designers to create limited edition works, including jewellery by Antwerp designers Wouters and Hendrix, a beehive print dress by Claudia Sträter, and a unique Bijenkorf cake. The chain has also pledged to sell only sustainable products by 2025. Other struggling department stores could learn some tips from De Bijenkorf. But for some it is already too late.

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