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Rewilded cornfield farmland, de-canalised water following its natural path and a comprehensive rethink restoration defines this original farmhouse located in the Netherlands. Add a commitment to future generations through green energy efficiencies and you reveal the trademarks of one of the Netherlands's most genuine property developers, hotelier and ethical visionary, aka Paul Geertman of Aedes. Can a restored farmhouse property and applied ecosystem tell you about the soul, mind and heart of the man and his company behind it? We think so.
As the founder of The Aficionados, I try to meet all the hotel owners and people that make up our creatively inspired community – it is rare, however, that they rustle up dinner and we spend time together in their private home. Picking me up at the airport, we head east just over an hour's drive from downtown Amsterdam, arriving at Vels Farm, a humble-looking farmhouse and smallholding dating in parts back to 1705. Stepping through its heavy doors, magazine-worthy elegant interiors sweep the eyes across a vast pitched timber-beamed living room and open kitchen in the former dairy barn, to the left is a to-dye-for home office and study.
Over dinner (Paul is at the helm in the kitchen) and a bottle of rather excellent wine (this host is a connoisseur), we chat business, provenance, the future and what makes him tick - including why he can't do anything by half, his reverent approach to real sustainability and his ‘back to nature’ initiatives.
"Since we returned the land to nature, ending the use of pesticides and non-natural fertilisers, I am pleased to report that the biodiversity has returned, populated by arable herbs, fieldmice, birds, flowers, insects, and buzzards who now find a safe place once more." Paul insisted that the traditional practice of using hedgerows be planted to replace the barbed wire that originally surrounded the farmlands to better allow animals to roam more freely. Besides that, this aged-proven technique also creates a more natural habitat for wildlife and insects.
Amsterdam-based Aedes is no stranger when it comes to property restoration and redevelopment, and at the farmhouse in Vels, Paul, together with his architects, planners, designers, in-house sustainability and research team (for air source heat pumps, thermal energy storage system (TES), solar Smart Roof efficiencies), have set a new template in their aim of creating better places to live, stay and work.
"I get a real kick of excitement when we need to identify a lost craft to repair, to replenish a building or its lands - of course, there is always a quick Band-Aid fix, but this rarely gives the sense of real, earned achievement. It needs to be done right for me and my sense of satisfaction, but also to have a positive impact - sometimes the old ways are wiser, they need a modern tweak to make them viable.”
Paul Geertman started restoring older buildings in 1995, the son of archaeologists - he has always had a fascination with history, heritage, and their relevance and importance in the fabric of today. At the crossroads of being an architect and property developer, Paul has indirectly followed his parents' passion with a deep belief in restoration.
With Aedes a familiar name in developing hotels (such as Soho House, Hyatt Regency, and Andaz), we first met Paul through a new restaurant and hotel project on the outskirts of Amsterdam - De Durgerdam. Their first standalone hotel property begins a new chapter in creating places to stay under the ethical label Aedes, in this case, designed by cool-cat designers Buro Belén.
How do you find the properties and projects that excite you, I ask of Paul.
"There's a spark" he enthusiastically beams, "I make a connection, and a project can take seven to ten years, De Durgerdam, for example, only took four years. It depends on the scale, historical relevance and the waiting game to find the right concept that will make for a new future whilst hanging on to the factors of legacy and history."
"Sometimes, you have to be prepared to invest and pay more to get what you think and believe is right; often, this involves being a pioneer in creating something or adopting a process that previously didn't exist - being experimental."
"I look for atmosphere, keeping hold of this is something so intrinsically valuable, often sadly discarded in the interests of quick gains." Geertman has a strong social conscience, saying he “couldn’t look back at myself in the mirror, with the knowledge that I had knowingly destroyed something of heritage - sustainability must be more than a quick fix.”
On the company website, Aedes appropriately states: 'We create places with heart and soul that have a positive impact. Our places should be as interesting and vital in 50 years as they are today. At Aedes, decisions are made because they are sensitive to the long term, brave enough to explore new paths and daring enough to pave the way for a better future.'
Sipping on an apéritivo, I take in the plethora of artworks, another passion of Paul's. You can tell that he is a cultured guy who supports the arts, and the creative scene and, more importantly, gathers the things that give him pleasure – this is no off-the-shelf catalogue of artworks, but altogether a much more personable curation – also evident at the Hotel De Durgerdam, which sports many of his original pieces.
Back in the kitchen, dinner is served, and we plough on into the late hours, exchanging thoughts and ideas over his next chapters - including a new hotel in Amsterdam embracing his ethos. Paul is the ultimate rewilder, restorer, conservationist, and custodian of heritage. It is rare to find a successful entrepreneur, investor, developer, and maker of doing things right. Dinner was delicious, and the time spent with Paul was inspirational. He is a charismatic, genuine and really nice guy (also an excellent cook).
I'll be back soon to see how his new hotel child planned for central Amsterdam (opening in late 2024) will not only reshape the hospitality landscape but bring with it new pioneering sustainable techniques for a rather complex restoration and conversion into a stylish hotel den –the hallmarks of an AEDES place where the guest can evidently sleep with a clean conscious.