In his design for the new museum built in the 1930s, Berlage immediately reserved an important place for a handful of historic interiors. They still provide a place in which to exhibit examples of the decorative arts in the kind of setting for which they were originally made. Most of the interiors, representing different periods, were salvaged from houses that were being demolished in Amsterdam, The Hague and Dordrecht. The walls, chimneypieces and ceilings were reconstructed inside the museum, sometimes with the addition of stylistically appropriate components brought from elsewhere. Berlage solved the problem of the difference in ceiling height between the historic room interiors and the new museum by lowering the floor of this section of the museum and providing access down an antique staircase.
The period rooms include:
the Gilt Leather Room (circa 1680);
the Gobelin Room (circa 1710);
Louis XV Room (circa 1770);
the Japanese Room (1720-1770);
the Louis XVI Room (circa 1790).
The earliest of the interiors, in the Gilt Leather Room, is a composite of elements brought from two different houses in The Hague. The staircase, with its rich carvings dating from around 1697, was once in a house facing onto the Buitenhof. The chimneypiece and ceiling, with paintings executed in 1680 by the Hague artist Theodorus van der Schuer, came from a house on the Groenmarkt. And the gilt leather wall coverings probably came from a house in Amsterdam.
Until 1931, the Gobelin Room was the principal reception room of a house (at no. 143) on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. The interior was transferred to the Kunstmuseum in its entirety and gives a splendid impression of a room in the period around 1710. The walls are decorated with tapestry hangings woven by Alexander Baert of Oudenaarde. They feature a fantasy wooded landscape with buildings, stretches of water and exotic birds.
De Louis XV Room was until 1930 the interior of a first-floor room in a house in the Westeinde (The Hague). In the eighteenth century, the building was the home of poet Hieronymus van Alphen. The flamboyant, asymmetrical carved ornamentation on the panelling, the mirrors and the white stucco ceiling are typical of the Louis XV or Rococo style. The colours of the paintwork were reconstructed some years ago on the basis of an analysis of the oldest surviving paint layer.
The so-called Japanese Room is in fact an extremely rare example of a complete panelled interior in the Chinoiserie style. It came from a mansion called Buitenrust that stood on the Scheveningseweg and was demolished in 1912 to make way for the garden of the Peace Palace. The colours – black, red and gold – and the glittering panels of crushed glass are inspired by Oriental lacquerwork, while other panels imitate Western gilt leather and tortoiseshell. The scenes in the wall paintings are derived from European prints by Jan Luyken and others but, to enhance the exotic character of the room, the craftsmen in them have been reinterpreted as Chinese figures.
The Louis XVI Room is decorated in the austerely classical Louis XVI style that followed the Rococo period. The extremely delicate carvings are of exceptional quality. The ceiling, chimneypiece, side table and wooden wall panelling decorated with small paintings of birds all come from a single house in Dordrecht. The large wall paintings by Abraham van Strij were found in another house in the same town. The paintings and panelling were only brought together in the museum in 1934.