This Dutch castle dating from the 16th century has withstood the ravages of time well. Before the present occupants – Marnix and Mary Heersink and their family – moved in, the interiors of the many rooms and halls were restored to their former glory. It was a joint project of the Dutch interiors specialist, Patrick Brugman and the architect Edzard Prent, together with the occupants and the Geldersch Landschap en Geldersche Kasteelen Foundation to which the estate belongs.
The estate covers some 162 hectares (around 400 acres). Fortunately it had been quite well maintained by the Lüps family. The last remaining member of the family had recorded in his will that Biljoen might be bequeathed to the GLK provided it would always be inhabited. That is how the present story began: early in the 21st century an American-Dutch family took up residence and the interior was restored to its full splendour.
The interior was indeed thoroughly made over by Patrick Brugman, in close collaboration with its occupants and the Geldersch Landschap en Geldersche Kasteelen Foundation. Patrick: “I was approached by the family and went to take a look. We walked through all the rooms and halls and I made mood boards for every interior from which a selection could be made. True, it’s a big castle, but if you have a feeling for what the space is trying to say, for the original architecture, you can envisage what you might make of it. It was a creative game, played in a maze of rooms. I soon pictured what to do and how to create a logical entity. The occupants’ ideas were highly stimulating in the process.” He studied the castle’s history and the uses and styles of the various rooms, reception halls, galleries and kitchen. He achieved a well-balanced effect alternating heavy, classical elements with lighter, more frivolous creations.
He was guided by the historic architecture and the history with which the interior is imbued. Accordingly, every room was given its own ambience and story, like the Anna Paulowna salon and bedroom. The daughter of the Russian Tsar Paul I, Anna Paulowna was grand duchess of Russian and a member of the Romanov family; she was married to the Dutch King Willem II. After her husband died, she took up temporary residence in Biljoen Castle, because it reminded her of the Pavlovsk Palace near St. Petersburg where she had spent part of her childhood. The memories were a comfort for her.
Visitors stepping into the castle through the formal entrance arrive in the white reception room. It has a four-part cornucopia embellishing the ceiling, walls ornamented with festoons, garlands and swags, and a dark-blue stone floor. A marble statue of a nymph stands in a niche. The spacious reception hall contains a stately staircase accessing all the other rooms and galleries. The large ballroom is spectacular, an example of neoclassical interior architecture in the Low Countries. The decorations date from the 1780-1782 period and were made after a design by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Here, there are depictions of the Pantheon, the Ponte Milvio, the pyramid of Cestius, the tomb of Caecilia Metella near Rome, and the temple of the Sybil at Tivoli. The castle has more striking features, including Aunt Thea’s ornate salon (early 20th century) overlooking the pond containing an island, and the park. Also the old kitchens in the basement housing an old stove and water pump, and the gentleman’s room with 17th century tapestries portraying animal scenes.
No less spectacular a feature of the estate are the gardens, the design of which is thought to date from round 1784. The landscaped gardens fan out in all directions from the waterways and ponds surrounding the castle. Biljoen’s 18th-century French formal garden architecture of the landscape park is still in evidence. The design was adapted between 1810 and 1822 by J.D. Zocher and his grandson. Their aim was to create landscaping unity in the park. At the end of the 19th century the driveway was planted with American oaks and extended to reach the road between Velp and Rheden. The coach house is another structure worth mentioning – it stands in the forecourt where the stables are also located. It started out as an annexe, but after a fire at the end of the 18th century, was rebuilt after a design by Eberson. That was when it acquired its present form, including a courtyard. That building has also been updated for contemporary living. It contains small studios and a rectangular indoor swimming pool.