My name is Maaike van Vliet and I love to design and live a happy eco life. I love to work with all sorts of material, waste as little as possible and re-use as much as possible. I love the beauty of nature and am always on the look out for material by the road or in nature that can be re-used to make something sustainable and useful.
Over the years I found it more and more interesting to design furniture & other objects with recycled material and it has now become my goal to design houses to be build using natural & sustainable materials that can be found or bought locally.
How it all started
MADWORK. | Happy Eco Life started out in 1995 in Curaçao as a small company called ‘Tur Kos Loco’, meaning ‘All Things Crazy’ in Papiamentu. It was run by my good friend Ann Omloo and me because we loved re-doing furniture and interiors.
We would go to landfill looking for old or, if we were lucky, even antique pieces of furniture to bring them back to life. We put them in the back of the truck and drove them home to work on them and eventually sell the pieces on the monthly local art fair at the beautiful Landhouse of Jan Kok.
We also changed the interiors of restaurants by advising on the colours for their interior and picking up their furniture and changing them into pieces of art that visitors could enjoy or even buy.
Gallery of Art & Design
After moving back to The Netherlands, I started a gallery called Malaika Art & Design in 1999. The gallery exhibited big colorful paintings from local artists and crazy & unique hand-made tables and it was decorated with original & antique artifacts from ancient Anatolia. The gallery was set up to inspire people.
When people visited the gallery they could either buy the objects that were exhibited or have a piece of art or furniture be manufactured just for them. It was a fun time, where I got to work with some great artists and got to design tailor-made pieces of furniture and art.
Academy of Arts
In 2001 I decided I wanted to specialize in architectural design and applied for the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam. During the day I would work as a lighting designer for Louis Poulsen and later iGuzzini, who both trained me in different ways to be a lighting designer for architects. I designed lighting plans for musea, public outdoor spaces and offices. It was great to work with light on an architectural level.
After having visited architects as a lighting designer during the day I would go to the Academy of Arts in the evenings. It was wonderful being among other students who all had different ways of looking at the assignments and came up with completely different solutions in their designs. The Willem de Kooning Academy gives you all the freedom you need to express your artistic cravings. We were taught by great teachers and since I majored in Interior Architecture we were lucky enough to be taught by some very cool architects. Their conceptual way of designing was very inspiring.
Designing an Ecological House
After 10 years of living, working & studying in The Netherlands I wanted to go back to Curaçao to continue Malaika Art & Design, MAD WORK. Like so many people I had always wanted to design and build my own house. Once I had found a good plot of land I couldn’t wait to design the house and did so beside the work I had to do to be able to pay for it.
The terrain had a great slope of 5 meters, making it possible to build a 3 level building. Since the street level was the highest point of the plot I designed the entry of the house to be a 5 meter long bridge. Thanks to the help of a great number of people that knew their way around the island I was able to work with the perfect contractor who was from Curaçao and who I trusted with my bank card. He had a great team of people and they build the house perfectly according to the building drawings I had made.
Observing the Elements
Before I designed the house I sat on the piece of land at different times of the day to feel the wind, watch the rain and see the sun moving over it. Since my mother was born on the island, she could tell me about the old customs of how to make your house as cool as possible without the use of air conditioners and how to store and re-use water for the garden. I wanted to build the house as ecological as possible, making use of the natural elements.
The roof had to catch the rainwater to be harvested to be able to water the plants in the garden in a later stage. The grey water from the shower, faucets and even kitchen had to be re-used in that manner as well. The sun had to be kept away from the outside walls so as to not be heat up the house and the wind had to be used to let fresh air flow through the house. The first level of the house, the studio, is made up of concrete only, to keep the termites from eating the wooden house at the second level above. The inside part of the studio downstairs and the house upstairs consist of less than 50% of the total foundation and living space. The other 50% is outdoor living and working space. The walls of the studio and house are kept out of the sun & rain by the roof that covers the entire porch around the house. Almost all doors and windows were made using wooden shutters that can be steered to regulate the wind going inside and through the house. The bedroom and living room are located on the windside so they will always stay fresh. This is also the side with the beautiful view and the outdoor living area.
Rainwater, Grey Water & Solar Power
When my former boyfriend moved into the house in 2009 he completely fine-tuned the house to make it even more ecological. He placed solar panels on the roof and replaced all regular lighting with LED lighting. He put in a grey water drip system to water the plants consistently and placed a gutter along the sides of the roof for the rain water to be caught in a cistern to be able to store water for longer periods of time.
Rainwater falls all at once in Curaçao, which is why in the old days underground dams and cisterns were build to capture and harvest it. There are still people who make use of these systems or have build new ones. The yearly amount of rainfall in Curaçao on average is 550mm, but it falls mainly between October and January and May and July. So the rest of the months the water harvested in the cisterns has to be used to water the gardens and keep them green. A green garden around the house can do a lot of good to the living environment. It keeps away dust, creates shade, making the area a few degrees cooler, creating an micro-climate and above all makes for a beautiful & healthy environment.
Growing your own Vegetables & Fruit Trees
The soil of Curaçao mainly consists of basalt (rock), limestone (from coral) and yellow brown clay (salty) and it does not hold water easily. This is why it is necessary to make compost to enrich the soil in the garden with mulch and place larger (fruit) trees to create shade on the ground so that the soil is kept moist. The better the ground in the garden is covered with mulch and kept in the shade by trees, the richer the soil can become. When you have enriched the soil in a natural way it will eventually become a self-sustainable system, where you need to water less and where preferably eatable plants and fruit trees will grow bigger and give off more fruits & vegetables.
Out of experience I can say it is a true joy to live in a house that is build to live in tune with nature. To be able to catch your own rainwater and harvest energy from solar panels, to be independent of a system that has become more and more vulnerable, gives a great feeling. The next step for us will be living off the land and growing our own vegetables using different Permaculture Design techniques and helping other people live a sustainable life making use of what nature has to offer.
This website contains information on the work I produce and a blog on how to live an ecological life in the Caribbean using Permaculture Design principles. My aim is to inform you on how to harvest water, energy and healthy food and build a healthy home in order to live a self-sustainable life using natural, sustainable en renewable materials as much as possible.