Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a bit more

Biljoen is exactly what, as a little girl, I imagined a fairy-tale castle should look like ~ its four perfect corner towers rising out of a picturesque moat surrounded by a lush forest. Inside the fairy princess would twirl (yes, twirl) around a ballroom, which just happens to be one of the finest examples of neo-classical architecture in the Netherlands.

However. . . the adult in me will tell you that Biljoen does indeed have a rather exciting history. It was built in 1530 by Duke Charles of the Gelderland on the foundations of an earlier medieval brick house. It passed through the hands of several owners in the 17th century before it was purchased in 1661 by Alexander van Spaen, who added the afore-mentioned towers, classic Dutch bell-shaped roofs, and ornamental chimneys. Shortly after, it was seized by Louis XIV and became the headquarters of the French army, suffering extensive damage at the hands of the soldiers.

A devastating fire in 1780 prompted Baron Johan Frederik Willem van Spaen to redecorate the house according to contemporary neo-classical taste. It was he who added the extraordinary stuccoed ballroom for which the house is famous ~ the now all-white walls of which would most likely have been robin's-egg blue. What a sight that would have been! Fortunately, the furniture in the room retains its original blue silk damask upholstery, albeit faded. And I would be remiss not to mention the sumptuous tapestry rooms. Over time, the rich greens of the woven forests have shifted to blue. . . indigo leaves and fanciful beasts lending the tapestries an other-worldly aura.

In the 1860s the architect E.H. Eberson was hired to renovate the house, adding the Renaissance-style decoration to the entrance and the van Spaen coat of arms above the door. Thereafter the house was purchased by the Lüps family, who lived in the house until 2009, when they sold it to the Gelderland Trust. The house is currently undergoing renovation and is not open to the public.

More photos here!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

bits from biljoen

Oh. It is too hot to write. Would you mind a few photographs instead? I am dreaming of this beautiful place (I think it was my favorite). Take a peek inside over here. . . I promise more in time.

However, in spite of heat stroke, I should mention that I had the honor of attending the Attingham study program in the Netherlands with Craig Hansen of Enfilade fame. He is a true gentleman and scholar (and incidentally, brings a whole new dimension to six degrees of separation!). Today he has some interesting thoughts about the future of print magazines and blogging, and some very lovely words about me and the amazing Courtney Barnes. Thank you Craig!

Until tomorrow. Stay cool.

Friday, June 25, 2010

strawberries and cream

I had a request to follow the last house tour with another dessert, and I am more than happy to oblige. In fact, our visit to Twickel was followed by this divine dish ~ strawberry ice cream with a side of fresh strawberries and a healthy dollop of slagroom (whipped cream). Consumed al fresco in the setting June sun, I think these were the sweetest, most wonderful strawberries I have ever had. Really! Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Another confection to follow. . . of the architectural sort. In the mean time, grab yourself a big old tub of ice cream and have a yummy weekend!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Twickel Castle rises majestically out of the flat Dutch landscape near Delden, its grand Renaissance façade a rare architectural survivor of the 16th century. The 7,500-acre estate is remarkably complete for this day and age, with the black and white Twickel colors still proudly painted on the shutters of surrounding farm houses. The current house was completed in 1555 for Agnes van Twickelo and Gossen van Raesfelt, and expanded in the 1680s by Adriana Sophie van Raesfelt. The house remained fairly unchanged until 1847, when the north wing was added under the direction of a British architect, Robert Hesketh. It is generally not open to the public, but our group was able to study the house ~ literally from the attics to the kitchens. While I can not show you any of the interiors, I can delight you with the exteriors. . .

As with many old estates, the gardens at Twickel have evolved over the years. Daniel Marot was commissioned in 1711 to create a formal garden with a series of Baroque-style parterres, topiaries, fountains, and tree-lined allés. In the late 18th century the landscape architect Johann Georg Michael gave the gardens a more picturesque layout with meandering wooded walks, highlighted by a deer park. The 19th and 20th centuries also brought a series of garden renovations, including a new orangery (built 1847) and an English-style rose garden planted in 1907. And then there are of course the famous Twickel orange trees, many more than 300 years old (but more on that in a separate post).

Today the gardens are a happy marriage of formal and picturesque, recently restored and reinvigorated by the Dutch landscape designer Michael van Gessel to incorporate a series of landscape vistas, wildflower meadows, and water features. There is even a hermitage inspired by an early 19th-century design discovered in the archives!

More photographs here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

time out for poffertjes

Ahhh. . . that little Dutch pancake topped with a massive slab of butter and powdered sugar. Just in case you thought that while in the Netherlands all I consumed was raw herring and white asparagus, I must introduce you to the reason I may not fit into a wedding dress come October: the poffertje. I ate mine with fresh June strawberries, in the Grote Markt at Haarlem.

Another fabulous house tomorrow.

Happy tuesday!

Monday, June 21, 2010


Ahhh. . . quite possibly the moment you all have been waiting for ~ the houses! Day 3 dawned bright and sunny, and picture perfect for a visit to Duivenvoorde, home to generations of the famous van Wassenaer family. It is one of those houses I have read about and seen images of, but until I saw it in person, I had no idea how truly extraordinary it is. The estate has roots in the 13th century and has never been sold. The medieval house was extensively renovated between 1631 and 1717, taking on the shape seen today. It was largely neglected in the 18th century, and narrowly saved from demolition in the 19th. While most of the contents were sold in 1793, the house itself remains essentially unchanged. The entrance hall retains its original 17th-century painted ceiling, and between 1957 and 1963, renovations by E.H. Canneman revealed additional painted ceilings throughout the house.

Alas, no interior photographs were allowed. But there is a magnificent book (in Dutch only), which can be ordered through the website:

* Annette de Vries, Duivenvoorde: Bewoners, landgoed, kasteel, interieur en collectie (2010)

And I have more exterior photographs here.

Lots more from the Netherlands this week. Until then, enjoy this first day of summer. . .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

on northern light

A few bits from inside "De Hoop" (the hope) windmill in Loenen ~ used for milling grain, not draining water. I was so entranced by the beautiful quality of light inside, creating an endless series of rustic Dutch still lifes, that I neglected to take a photograph of the mill itself. But, oh the power of wind! It is tremendous.

I was told that there were three classic Dutch experiences not to be missed ~ windmills, tulips, and raw young herring ~ all of which I enjoyed with gusto! Okay, the herring: it was a little tough to take in theory, but not nearly as unappealing in practice.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

in Amsterdam

Day 1: the Amsterdam canal house! A fascinating study of 4 extraordinary 5-bay houses, and the evolution of the city and its architecture. The day began at the Burgemeester's House (or mayor's residence), moving on to the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis, the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, and the Museum Van Loon (the latter retaining its original garden and coach house, albeit somewhat altered in the 18th century). The day ended with dinner and drinks in the garden of a private residence (a typical 3-bay canal house).

What became clear very quickly is that nothing in Amsterdam is static. While all of the houses we studied have occupied their plots since they were first built in the 17th century, they have evolved over time to reflect the changing tastes and lifestyles of the intervening centuries.

For some history the development of Amsterdam and its canal ring, see:

* Paul Spies, The Canals of Amsterdam (1991) ~ currently out of print, but due to be revised and reprinted in 2013

* and Amsterdam's Canal Belt: The Expansion of Amsterdam in the Golden Age, on view at the Rijksmuseum, 1 June - 6 September 2010

(above: a 17th-century leaded glass window in the collection of the Willet-Holthuysen)

P.S. I started a Netherlands set on flickr. . . ahhh, slowly, slowly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

summer idylls

Eight days in the Netherlands studying art and architecture ~ an amazing romp through 19 houses, 4 palaces, 5 museums, 1 windmill, and a beautiful collection of gardens. While we took most of it in at a full gallop, there were also some blissfully idyllic moments when we slowed down just long enough to smell the roses (or sip tea in a picture-perfect village garden).

A little light reading:

* Eric de Jong, Nature and Art: Dutch Garden and Landscape Architecture, 1650-1740 (1993)

(top: roses at Gunterstein; bottom: a garden in Loenen)

Friday, June 11, 2010

first impressions

A few bits from the Netherlands ~ day 2 in Loenen, along the River Vecht. There are over 1000 images in my camera, and even more in my head. I think I need to sleep on it all for a couple days, so words to follow next week.

In the mean time ~ have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

a summer sojourn

It is time to leave this space for a bit. Distant shores have beckoned. I will be back later this month with a few palace gardens, and a country house or two to share.

Here are some of the things on my current reading list:

* Heimerick Tromp, Private Country Houses in the Netherlands (1997)

* John Loughman and John Michael Montias, Public and Private Spaces: Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Houses (2000)

* Mariët Westermann, Art & Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt (2003)

* Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches (1987)

Be well.