06 October 2014

Dutch Walls

Normally, I try not to complain about things that are different about living in the Netherlands from my experience as an American. Most of the time it would be petty and not very constructive, so I try to let differences roll off my back and take them for what they are. But then again, there are some that are just downright confusing for me.

The latest thing to confuse me has been the walls. Now sure, that sounds stupid - a wall is a wall and I'm not stuck in some giant rat maze - but I'll explain.

When we first moved into our new place, we marveled at how quiet the apartment is. We live on a very busy road in Tilburg, but when the doors and windows are closed, you hardly hear anything go by except for an emergency vehicle with a siren. We don't hear our neighbors next to us or above or below us. Everything is well insulated. So far it sounds great, and it is. My confusion developed during the first attempt to put something ON the wall.

I'm not super-handy, but I know how to use a hammer and a drill. In our last place, the walls were tough, but you could hang a picture using a regular drill, a little brace, and a screw; and I had been pretty successful getting everything set up. So imagine my surprise when I tried using the drill and didn't make a mark deeper than what I might have done with a toothpick.

I made a call for help through Facebook, and learned that not only are most Dutch walls made of heavy-duty cement, but most people own a concrete rated drill for regular home use. And the other foreigners were just as dumbfounded by the walls as I was. Command strips wouldn't work because all the walls have a stucco-ish texture on them, so we were going to have to find a drill solution to get anything up.

We borrowed a concrete drill from a friend and got to work. At first, things did not go well. We tired to install a cheapo IKEA light to the ceiling in Little Man's room and even with the concrete drill, it was almost impossible. We were reluctant to try again, but we also didn't want to live with all these pictures sitting on the floor forever. It turns out that with the proper equipment, the job is easier to do (you're welcome for that earth-shattering realization). We got several pictures up and the place started to look truly lived in and not just occupied by squatters with an IKEA fetish.

Ta-da! Things look normal!

Initially, we planned to surround that cute little rectangular window with our pictures. Then as we started under the window, we somehow melted the drill bit. Maybe it was rebar, or maybe it was a different harder cement. Either way, it scared us enough into calling it "good enough" for the living room and looking into a replacement drill bit to hang the curtains I made for Little Man's room.

Go ahead and marvel at my DIY skills - just don't look at the seams. And stop trying to stare at the neighbors.

In the process of all this fun we discovered that the interior walls (that we're connecting to the outside or to a neighbor's unit) were mostly like good ol' American dry wall. In particular, this means that the water closet (a.k.a. the toilet room) is now covered with pictures we couldn't hang elsewhere.

Hang all the things!

Now that everything is hung, it will stay put. I appreciate the insulation, but I really hope we don't have to deal with the cement walls again - at least not without a spare set of drill bits handy.


  1. We ran into the same problem in France, except the plaster would fall out in chunks when trying to drill... We just left a large part of the walls bare, good for you getting your art up!

  2. I had no idea! How very odd! I enjoy your solution, tho' of hanging things on the easier walls. Your bathroom must be super pretty :)

  3. These are the strange differences that you don't think about when you move! I do see now why most people don't have much hanging on their walls here.

  4. Haha, thanks. I think it might be a little eclectic for most people, but it sure is colorful! =)

  5. We rented a concrete drill from Bo-Rent conveniently located directly across the street from us. It worked well, but for the most part our walls are still bare…after 6 years. Not sure if you've already posted in depth about these, but two additional cultural differences: 1. the course texture covering the concrete walls here is seriously dangerous; a person can lose layers of skin when coming into contact with that stuff (and I have) 2. WC wall hangings typically include a birthday calendar; something else we didn't hang, mainly because of the concrete wall. hahaha!

  6. Oh, the texture is crazy to me! It's harder to clean and harder to paint, and we've all had our share of scrapes and cuts from it. But I didn't know about the birthday calendar - I suppose it gives you something to think about while you're in there, haha!

  7. I think we got lucky with a softer interior layer over the harder outer walls, at least in the old part of the house. A regular hammer and nails works, thank goodness. The new kitchen addition is pure concrete, though, and is the reason I never put up the magnetic spice rack I bought. But I really really REALLY hate that pebble stucco stuff on all the walls.

  8. Hello! I came over from Farrah's blog 'The Three Under' it is so fun to learn about different things you have to deal with while living overseas! Who knew the Dutch had such hard walls! Thanks for such a fun post...I love the caption "hang all the things!" exactly what I would have done!

  9. Between the cats and child, that texture is really hard to keep clean. Drives me nuts. How lucky that you can mostly do what you want to the walls in the older part of the house!

  10. Hi, and thanks so much for coming over! I'm glad you enjoy the post - it's one of those weird differences that you really don't expect. And our WC really is taking on just about everything else in the house. I'm glad we have a spot for them!

  11. Yep same problem here and the texture thing I hate so much!!!

  12. This post saved me a lot of sadness, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences in English :)

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