Name: Ariena Ruwaard, her husband Mark, their children Lot, Stijn, and Daan, and Sientje the cat
Location: Gorinchem, the Netherlands
Size: 1,991 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, owned
Ariena’s story is one of hope and encouragement, of finding a new path when the old one has become impassable. A little over 10 years ago she was a primary school teacher. Together with Mark (who is also a teacher) they had three kids. She enjoyed her family, her fulfilling job, and their busy social life. Then tragedy struck and Ariena was hit by viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. She was fortunate to survive, but the impact was so hefty things never returned to what they were.
A long rehabilitation period restored her muscle weakness, speech, and ability to read. But certain effects proved permanent, and in the end Ariena was declared unfit to continue her job as a primary school teacher, even on a part-time basis. This really hurt, after teaching for 23 years. “Some folks thought it would be great, not having to work anymore,” says Ariena, “but that was definitely not the case. I missed substance—meaning—and just hated it.”
The years that followed were tough. At first there was mourning, for the things that once were and never would return. This eventually turned into acceptance of the new status quo, being able to finally give up the desperate struggle to retrieve what had been lost. A turning point in Ariena’s emotional healing process, because this meant she now could focus on whatever was still possible instead of dwelling on matters outside her reach.
As a kid Ariena loved to read and write stories. Later on, as a teacher, she would write short stories for the kids in her class. After all these turbulent years, she decided to pick up her old hobby. “I wanted to write about my experiences in the past period. Initially, it was meant for my children; so they could read how I felt,” explains Ariena. “That gave me a new purpose and meaning.” This resurgence of creativity didn’t end there. In the past, the family has lived in Curaçao for three years (a small island in the Caribbean). Collecting driftwood was a favorite pastime and when the family returned to the Netherlands, they brought back an impressive collection of driftwood, coconuts, and shells. Ariena already used to make artwork made of driftwood while in Curaçao, and now was the time to rekindle this relaxing activity.
Fast forward to today: Ariena has found a whole new direction. Her days are filled with writing and creating driftwood art. Regularly, these two are combined; a poem and a photo of her artwork make for a lovely and meaningful postcard that can be bought through her website. Ariena’s life story has been published in a book called Imperfect Verklaard (meaning “Declared Imperfect”). Contrary to what one might expect—in light of her illness—it’s not glum or bleak. Instead, it’s uplifting and surprisingly lighthearted. And she continues to share the lessons she has learned over the years. It even includes ruminations about her home and its interior, accompanied by pretty photos shot by Ariena’s husband Mark.
Actually, the latter isn’t quite a stretch from the core topic. Ariena elaborates: “You see, all of a sudden I was home a lot. Like all the time. While I always viewed our home as important, it now became crucial. I truly believe a warm and safe home can contribute to one’s sense of well-being. Surrounding yourself with personal items, pieces that have been made with love and craftsmanship; an environment that makes you feel comfortable is beneficial for your overall health.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Driftwood, orange, natural materials, family home.
Inspiration: Nature, recycled materials.
Favorite Element: Self-made driftwood triptych.
Biggest Challenge: Transforming the small kitchen into a family kitchen.
What Friends Say: You have a style all your own.
Biggest Embarrassment: None I can think of.
Proudest DIY: Cabinet made by Mark.
Biggest Indulgence: The sauna.
Best Advice: Create your home according to the things you like to do. A home is to live in: for your hobbies, your relaxation, for togetherness. In short, for your happiness!
Dream Sources: Not a dream source, but more of a wish for the future: a room of my own I can call my workspace.
Old construction materials
Pendant lights — vtwonen
Sofa — Loods 5
Amber-colored side table — Kartell
Cushions — Sissy-Boy Homeland
TV unit — made by Mark using driftwood and an IKEA base
All driftwood artworks — made by Ariena
Blinds — Luxaflex
Accessories — Habitat