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He transformed old waterline war bunker into minimalist home

Twenty years ago when Ben Spee was looking for a “special” place to live, the Foundation Forteresse was planning to turn an old Dutch fort into a B&B. Spee moved in and spent the next 15 years helping turn a 19th-Century fortress- complete with moat- into a “special” place to spend the night.

In 1844, the Dutch began to construct Fort Vuren as part of the New Hollandic Waterline (Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie) a series of forts stretching 52 miles north-south through the countryside. Part of the country’s largest ever infrastructure investment, the Waterline (the original dates back to the 17th Century) relies on a chain of forts and shallow moats with water that could be strategically deployed to create an impassable muddy mess.

The Waterline served as more of a deterrent than something actually put to use (Fort Vuren was occupied only by invading Germans) and became obsolete with the introduction of air strikes in World War II.

Today, the Waterline has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Regional governments, following ideals of “preservation through development”, are renovating the forts into restaurants, museums and lodging.

Ben Spee helped oversee a massive renovation of Fort Vuren that began in 2010 that included protection from the area’s high humidity: inserting a vapor barrier in the walls and using geothermal energy to heat the floors. Today, the old fort has 9 guest rooms within the circular counterscarp (added on in 1878). There are also two “fort lodge” homes for rent inside an old barrack.

For the truly “adventurous”, there’s a tiny bunker turned bunkhouse for rent by the weekend/week. Just 3 meters by 3 meters, the half submerged structure sleeps four in retractable wooden bunkbeds. It’s also plumbed and wired with a small kitchen, complete with stovetops, sink and mini fridge.

We tested the converted shelter for one night and found it surprisingly comfortable for all five of us. As a bonus for those with young kids, it’s isolated and soundproof.

Despite the new accommodations and additional overnight guests, the fort still retains a timeless quiet, and for Ben, and the rest at Fort Vuren, this intimacy remains a core value.