Belonging | in old houses



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Louis Schoonenberg (57) works independently on renovation projects. Currently, he fixes up historic buildings in the centre of Utrecht. And that is exactly where he feels at home. “When a job is finished, I have to find emotional closure.”

“Look, that’s one I did,” Louis points out. He is standing on the bridge over the Oude Gracht in Utrecht and is pointing to a house with green shutters overlooking the canal. “Number 302. And the one next to it, with the white tower. Do you see that one? All work from my own hands.” His face relaxes and he is quiet for a moment. “Nice, isn’t it? Here you have canals, terraces and people who always stop for a chat while you work. Wonderful, a bit of cheerfulness in life. After all, life is short.”

Here people always stop for a chat while I work.

“At the moment I do a lot of work for Stadsherstel [city restoration services]. For the cash of course, but that is not reason number one. I am a city person. I was born here and I moved houses within the city centre many times. Now I live in Houten in a modern apartment building. It is impersonal and cold there, the town sleeps. I went to live there with an ex-girlfriend because we needed a house, but to be honest I don’t like anything about it.”

My modern apartment is impersonal and cold.

“I feel good when I’m near old buildings. Every old building is alive. I find them all beautiful, but when I finish a job I look for emotional closure. You can’t develop strong feelings for every building. One building that I still feel a bond with is 30 Ganzenmarkt. It dates way back to 1583. It was in ruins when I came and together with my colleague Hans I made it beautiful again. I was given plenty of time and confidence on the job. To be allowed to work there was sublime.”

After every job I find closure on an emotional level too.

“The first time I renovated a house I did so with my mother. We moved from the Springweg, where I was born, to Hopakker. We worked on the house together. I learned to renovate houses by trying things out. It’s all in the fingers: you either have the gift or you don’t.


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.