Not-So-Sexy is an on-going series on Miilkiina.com profiling creatives around the world and their real, raw, and “not-so-sexy” work-from-home experiences.
This week, we’re catching up with Carmen Atiyah De Baets, the creative behind guesthouse, kitchen and shop CARMEN Amsterdam. We get into her routines, from what makes a good hotel, to curating a space for creativity, and what’s in the pipeline. Keep reading for more Carmen.
What is the story behind CARMEN?
Ouf that’s a long one! I guess it all starts with when I met my partner Joris, over 10 years ago now, we traveled a lot together because our families are spread all over the place. I remember we visited his dad in California one summer and road-tripped from his place down to LA and then we found a super cheap deal at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, not realizing the rooms were so cheap because of the unbearable heat, we took a detour and ended up there. This was in 2010 mind you, before the Ace became more chain-like.
Anyways, I don’t think either of us ever forgot that trip. We ended up at a small film screening in the desert and chilled with the filmmaker, met a group of creatives that we still keep in touch with, kept going back to one super local restaurant because it was so good…
Since then we started dreaming about creating a space like that in Amsterdam. A space where people could come together, where a filmmaker could screen their first film, where we could serve food that we love, basically good vibes all around! There are very little hotels in Amsterdam so when friends would want to spend time there with us it was always a struggle. I still have notebooks with scribbles of ideas and dreams, especially menu ideas- we’re both obsessed with food.
Then a few years later Joris’ grandmother passed away, she was an artist and had invested in a beautiful canal house which she left to her grandchildren. At the time I had a really great job in London and Joris had just opened his first restaurant so the timing wasn’t right but in 2018 we felt like we’d gained enough experience to open our own place together so we moved back.
We lived in a part of the house and rented out the rest on airbnb, and to friends for about a year while we were applying for building permits. We were really able to observe the space, how it is best used but also get to know Amsterdam again because we had both been in London for a long time.
For my part I really missed a good space to shop and through working in fashion in London I’ve come across so many designers that I love and wanted to share with others. I am so bored with mainstream fashion nowadays and I know very little people that buy into the big brands anymore. We’re all looking for brands with integrity and that live to create meaningful pieces for the reality of everyday life (with a little fun and sexiness of course).
And for Joris it is and always will be food. I love his food and his ideas about food so what we are really building is a combination of both our passions, at it’s core a guesthouse.
Why is the signature blue so prevalent?
When we were working on the graphic design with our close friend Maxime van Namen we kept referring back to graphics we have seen around Lebanon. Super simple, bold, big, blue letters. I really just had this one reference of Massabki Laiterie, which is a roadside labneh sandwich place en route from Beirut to Baalbeck.
Blue is positive, it’s the sea, it’s a sunny place for us, it’s our other home.
What makes a good hotel? Must haves for hosting?
A little bit of (organised) mess, it makes people feel at home. For not everything to be perfect. Although the bedrooms always have to be an oasis where you can retreat into. Good food on hand is also a must and an endless list of recommendations.
If you could invite any guest to CARMEN, who would it be?
Tracee Ellis Ross.
Do you have a daily routine? If so, walk us through it.
When we have guests it means waking up super early to prepare breakfast and make the kitchen cosy. This summer it often meant rolling out of bed, quick shower and biking to the bakery for fresh pastries. I really love that time we have with our guests in the morning where you’re chatting about plans for the day, we’re kind of providing them with a good start to the day.
Then once they leave and we’ve cleaned up I’ll do emails and see what is needed for the shop. Sometimes it’s a day full of shop appointments and other times its quiet. When there is an event its usually super hectic and it’s all hands on deck.
I guess there isn’t really a routine, every day is different to be honest!
Favorite room at CARMEN?
What is it like working with your husband?
99% of the time it is amazing because we both have the same vision and our skillsets complement each other. We have been dreaming of opening CARMEN almost since we met though, which also means it can be all consuming and there is little balance between work and relationship time. But then again, we are literally working our asses off to build a life we believe is worth living and nothing gives more purpose than that. So when things get a little though or we lose each other a little, that’s what keeps us going.
What is your favorite dish that he makes?
To me he can make anything tasty. But ever since I doubted his dinner party suggestion of fish and potatoes that has been my favorite. He suggested it and I thought it was way too simple but then when he made it I fell in love. When he makes it he usually gets freshly caught turbot from the market and makes homemade mayonnaise or salsa verde with it.
What is on your wish list from the CARMEN shop?
All the Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes always. Flore Flore’s new fall colors are going to be great, Eckhaus Latta jeans, Chelsea Mak’s Lexy pants in white – I didn’t think I’d be a white pants in winter type till I laid my eyes on these pure silk babies. A good Sophie Buhai chain or earrings are a staple for me and our house shirt!
Something you’re looking forward to?
CARMEN 2.0! We’re opening the shop in a new space next to the house and adding another guest-room + cafe. We’re designing the space together with Elliot Barnes, he made some really cool lamps for the guesthouse already and we can’t wait to grow into the new space together.
There are a few product launches in the pipeline too. The first is the House Shirt that we designed ourselves inspired by what we and our team wears almost daily around the house. Its basically a unisex oversized mens shirt in the finest fabrics and colors. The creamy cashmere one is my personal favorite.
And in spring of ’22 we are hoping to launch a homeware line sourced and produced in Lebanon together with Gilles Khoury and Makram Bitar.
How do you like to unwind and pass time?
I love going out in summer, I bought a race bike this year and been taking rides to the beach or lakes around Holland. In winter it’s definitely watching movies or playing games with friends.
Best meal of the day: breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Breakfast when it is labneh, zaatar in Lebanon and otherwise a good warm lunch.
Best thing about your job?
I think the fact that we operate a space that can facilitate almost anyone’s creative idea. To facilitate someone else’s dream.. This summer a small group of artists from the Rietveld Academy curated and ran a residency at CARMEN and at the closing party one of the artists came up to me and said that he will never forget the freedom he felt in the house, to create without the pressure of deadlines or the outside world but just to be with his art.
Share a favorite memory of Lebanon with us.
My favorite thing is the drive from the airport to our family home. I always open the windows and just take in the air. Going from Beirut up into the mountains… And then arriving at Teta’s who always makes an arrival dinner. She most often has already eaten and will be sitting at the head of the table in pure bliss to have everyone around her eating her crème caramel.
Tell us something people don’t know about you.
I could eat goat cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What’s something that’s giving you hope right now?
I often find it quite hard to find hope which is why I try to stay focused on creating positive energy and situations. It can be a customer one day that gives me hope. Like yesterday there was an amazing filmmaker from New York by way of Ethiopia that came through, she was radiating in everything she tried on. We got to talking and I learned that she’s looking for a place in Amsterdam to screen her first short film so we started thinking of how we could do that in the house.
Conversation gives me hope, exchanging and people pulling through for each other.