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Naomi Russell may not be an interior designer, but she has precise views about how her Amsterdam home should look. The “perfectly done space that feels like a showroom” is not for her. What Russell, a theatre producer and founder of arts organisation Espaço Agora prefers is a gentle fusion of past and present. It is the approach she applied to her ingenious live-work eyrie. Set on the top floor of a slender 19th-century townhouse, streamlined furnishings and vivacious paint colours are clasped by soaring golden beams so that, as she puts it: “The provenance of the architecture shines through.”

Like most of Amsterdam’s pre-20th century houses, the apartment originally served as a storage space for household clutter. A previous owner converted the 90sqm interior into a home in 2002. The airy, double-height living area – a ladder stretches up to a roof terrace above – basks in the brightness of the south-facing front, with two bedrooms and a bathroom tucked behind.

Stairway to heaven: Naomi Russell.
‘I’d been commuting from London but whenever I arrived here I felt I was home’: Naomi Russell. Photograph: On a hazy morning/The Observer

Russell rented the apartment for three years before seizing the opportunity to buy it when it came up for sale in 2016. “I’d been commuting between London and Amsterdam. Every time I got off the train I’d sigh and say… ‘I’m home.’ It made sense to move here,” she says. The tenancy had been useful. It gave her time to unpick flaws – a lack of bookshelves or wardrobes – and appreciate its “natural beauty… the way the light falls” and the views of the Amstel river, which flows past the house, bouncing aqueous shadows across walls, adding to its peaceful, isolated feel. After the anonymity of London, Russell appreciates Amsterdam’s “petite scale

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