A woman who lives in the past: the 1930s, to be exact

A woman who lives in the past: the 1930s, to be exact

In a small apartment in the modern center of Amsterdam, Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse parties like it’s 1938.

The owner of a historical consultancy company, Teeuwisse, 41, lives her work, forgoing most modern belongings and conveniences of the 21st century in favor of a life straight out of the 1930s.

“The only modern thing I have in my house is my computer; I need it for my work,” she said. “I also have a modern fridge, but only because I haven’t found a nice 1930s one yet and they no longer deliver ice for ice boxes.”

Click here or on a photo to see a slideshow.

Teeuwisse’s obsession with the era began when she was a little girl growing up in the 1970s. She was surrounded by the decade’s aesthetic and thought, even then, that the style was, well, ugly. To find something more pleasing to her eye, she began collecting old things, first from the 1950s, then earlier as she explored history.

Building dates back to 1918

“As a student, my house was a mix of all sorts of old things, but slowly I started to focus it all and eventually I decided to just go for it and aim for the lifestyle of a lower-middle-class woman in Amsterdam in the late 1930s,” she said. “I felt right at home.”

Her favorite year, specifically, is 1938, because in addition to being a great example of the time she loves – the “golden age” of architecture, design, fashion and movies – it was also before the start of World War II and Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands.

In her apartment on the second floor of a building constructed in 1918, Teeuwisse lives with all the “modern” amenities of a 1930s woman. She describes her space as “a typical working-class house with a front room, back room, bedroom, ‘wet room’ (bathroom) and kitchen.”

The cozy apartment is filled with Dutch furniture from the 1920s and 30s, with a fireplace and radio and no television.

“Making sure that everything is at least pre-1945 gives the home automatically the right atmosphere, and of course I’ve done a lot of research to see how I can recreate some of the details correctly,” Teeuwisse said.

Those details are what really give the apartment its old-world charm – small things such as matchboxes, magazines, an old sewing kit, antique magazines, family photos and ashtrays all add to the authentic ambience.

Cleaning, 1930s-style

Even the way Teeuwisse keeps house is old-fashioned.

She runs a 1920s vacuum cleaner over the rugs, and washes the floors with vinegar, scrubbing on her hands and knees. She does all her laundry by hand using a washboard, a block of soap, bleach and a brush – “the smell is lovely,” she said.

Click here or on a photo to see a slideshow.

“I just started doing it as an experiment to see what it was like, to learn about the past, and then I realized that I liked doing it that way and saved lots of money, that it was better for the environment, and that I didn’t have to put a big ugly white metal or plastic noisy box in my house,” Teeuwisse said, referring to modern appliances like washers and dryers.

Teeuwisse spends many of her mornings getting to know neighbors, going to a flea market in her neighborhood with her dogs and chatting about “the good old days” with seniors.

But because she has a company to run, she also spends part of her day with her laptop, doing research, “so that part is not very 1930s,” she said. However, she does use a Bakelite phone, introduced in 1931, instead of a cell phone to conduct business.

And when the workday is done, she spends her evenings listening to old music, reading magazines or books, or playing board games with friends.

“And of course sometimes I have to darn stockings,” she said.

Despite all this, Teeuwisse said she’s not particularly nostalgic. After all, she didn’t live through the era she mimics.

“I combine the best of the past with the best of the present to create a new tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t hide from reality. I do not pretend it is the 1930s. I do not ignore what goes on in the modern world. In the end, it is just a lifestyle.”

Click here or on a photo to see a slideshow.

And to see many more photos of Teeuwisse's lifestyle, go to her Flickr page.

Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host, and managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.