On the wall running the length of the living space, the couple installed large cabinets of their own design.

The four shallow cabinets not only subdivide the large space into different areas, but also give the room a sense of coherence. Furthermore, as the coloured panels can be easily swapped, they can be used to harmonise the ever-changing displays of arts and objects on top.

design dairy

Woth-initiators Mary Hessing and Toon Lauwen transformed an inner-city dairy into a remarkable family home.


The brick façade looks almost inconspicuous between the other large town houses on either side of the street, but behind the row of chocolate-coloured doors something rather special is hidden. Built in 1884 as cooperative dairy distribution centre, the huge 800 m2 building has had a chequered life. After the dairy closed, it was used as furniture storage before it was turned into an artists’ colony in the 1960s. Mary Hessing, founder and editor of WOTH Wonderful Things magazine, inherited the building from her father in the late 90s. The place wasn’t in great shape at the time but in the course of 10 years she and her partner Toon Lauwen, design journalist and co-founder of WOTH media, have transformed the vast industrial space into a comfortable home for themselves and their three daughters.

Minimal intervention

Hessing reflects on the history of the building: ‘The idea of having a working farm in the centre of town in order for inner city people to have access to fresh milk is quite romantic. There used to be a field with cows at the back and where our kitchen sink is now, there used to be an animal trough. Our living roomwas formerly a storage area fot the milk carts that were used to distribute dairy throughout the city.’
There are in fact many more reminders of the building’s former life as a cooperative diary; the black and white tiles, various dairy storage rooms and the hayloft have all been preserved as much as possible. Lauwen: ‘We tried to keep to simple, clear-cut interventions in order to transform what is a large monument into a warm family home.’ Key changes were the creation of a patio and the addition of steel-framed windows that separate the garage from the living area and the kitchen from the patio. The designs for these were sketched by Hessing – based on drawings from a book in Lauwen’s extensive design library – and then translated into a design by a technical designer: ‘Nowadays there are specialised companies who can do this but ten years ago steel-framed windows were hard to get.’

Whilst in most homes the garage is a decidedly ‘behind the scenes’ area, here it is nothing short of an opening statement, with an industrial feel that perfectly complements their classic Mercedes 350 SLC. The black and off-white cement tiles were part of the original interior of the dairy.

A mood for every room

Hessing and Lauwen’s love for the building, as well as their professional and personal interest in design and architecture, are evident throughout. Their knowledge was put to good use in the restoration process, which meant that they were able to forego the services of an architect and just worked with a contractor. As a fashion graduate and magazine editor, Hessing was able to translate her thoughts into workable plans, designs and sketches: ‘I think I probably had five folders with pages and pages of photos I had torn out of magazines over the years and I made a separate mood board for every single room in the house.’ 
A lot of the renovation work was done making use of the materials that were present in the house. Lauwen: ‘We took out all the doors, and catalogued and stored them until such time that we needed them again. Essentially, we designed the house around the old ingredients.’ Where new materials were needed, they were sourced second-hand as much as possible. Hessing: ‘When we were renovating, I basically spent all my spare time scouring architectural salvage merchants’ web shops and auction websites. It was like having a second job.’ 

Luck and lots of patience 

The same method was used in acquiring pieces of furniture and art for the house. The interior is an eclectic mix of family heirlooms, favourite designs that were hunted down online as well as lucky finds. Hessing: ‘Years ago, I was working at the V&D department store head office when they were refurbishing. They were throwing out all their 1960s  furniture, including these Eames bucket chairs. I was quite happy to take them off their hands…’ The Eileen Gray sofa required a lot of patience to find though: ‘I’ve always loved the design of this piece, even as a young girl. One of my childhood friends remembered and called me to say that he had seen one for sale when we were in the middle of renovating. I didn’t have time to go round to look at it, so I just bought it on spec, hoping it was the real thing. When it arrived we just left it wrapped up because everything was covered in dust. It wasn’t until we had finished the house that I had a proper look at it. Luckily, it turned out to be an original.’ 
The enormity of the space and their love for entertaining have led Hessing and Lauwen to opening their house for visitors on a frequent basis. Not only do they regularly host corporate and private dinners, their house is also a well-loved destination during the annual Designkwartier Den Haag festival. For their ‘week-only treasure hunt’ they move most of their furniture elsewhere and fill the living area with vintage and new furniture, art and design. For one week, Mary is the general manager of their department store and Toon runs a café from their kitchen, while their daughters run the till. 
The house acted as a catalyst for their professional lives. Not long after it was featured in Eigen Huis & Interieur, Hessing was appointed editor-in-chief of the magazine. Since then, the couple have started WOTH media and the dairy now houses the editorial staff of their enterprise, ‘The house is our own Wonderful thing; a place to treasure and be surprised by every day of the year.’

Off the main living area, a large open kitchen is situated, leading to a small enclosed patio with a beautiful pink magnolia tree. Hessing: ‘Unfortunately, the magnolia only flowers for a week and a half per year, although when it does, it really heralds the start of Spring for us.’ The back wall of the kitchen is clad in green handcrafted Moroccan Zeliger tiles. A simple cabinet made out of steel and mottled glass hides the extractor whilst the kitchen cabinets were tailor-made and based on the interior of Antwerp restaurant De Gulden Bock.

The former cheese storage room was dark and stuffy before Hessing and Lauwen installed second-hand church windows. It is now a cosy home office. The mirrored cabinet is a special edition of the Ikea Malm series. One of the rattan chairs belonged to Hessing’s grandfather; the other - wich is almost identical - was a lucky find. 

The dark parquet floor and muted colours give the bedrooms a touch of elegance and warmth.The bedstands were painted in exactly the same colour as the walls. 


A theme of creamy beige was chosen for the main bathroom. Its crisp lightness contrasts with the adjoining master bedroom. Tube-lights were installed over the mirror to create maximum light reflection. One of the lights cleverly hides the joint between the two mirror surfaces that were needed to cover the width of the room.