HISTORY BY DESIGN

The mysterious castle, part 1

, July 2, 2012 - Projects

How I got in and what I found there

Earlier this year I was asked to take a look at some historic wallpapers in a castle near my hometown Maastricht. The papers were discovered during a condition survey of the long-neglected building, which is now undergoing structural restoration. I was thrilled to get this assignment, because I had taken a special interest in the castle since a year or so.

The castle and garden in 2011

I remember passing it for the first time during one of my driving lessons. My driving instructor, who lives in a neighbourhood located close to the castle, knew about my studies in historic interiors and thought I would find it an interesting site – he guessed right! I loved the classic facade with the charming old tower peeking from behind.. and how cool are those fake (painted) windows!

The middle window is fake (painted)

The castle and its surroundings were still abandoned at the time, looking shabby and wild, which for me added to its appeal: I dreamed about possible future uses of the building and even more about the grand rooms that I assumed would be inside. In reality I had no idea what the inside of the building looked like, that is, if any historic interior details had been preserved at all. It wasn’t possible to go inside back then, and I did my best searching archives and the internet, but ended up with no information whatsoever.

Ever since my first encounter with the mysterious castle, I had been hoping to get a glimpse of its interiors someday, so when I was asked to come and have a look at those wallpapers I was very excited!

I am afraid I might t disappoint you a bit now. No glorious grand rooms, no dramatic staircase, no painted ceilings, no panoramic murals like the ones that existed in my mind. In reality, close to no traces of the earliest periods remained..

What do I mean by ‘the earliest periods’? Let me explain a little bit about the history of the castle. It was built in the early 16th century, but like many of its kind, it was gradually expanded and altered over the next centuries. In the first half of the 19th century thorough renovations took place, in particular of the interiors. The earlier details and finishes must have been removed during this campaign.

Lili’s growth recorded on a doorframe

Descendants and former personnel of the baron who renovated the building and lived there in the 19th century occupied the castle until the late 20th century. During my search for the wallpapers, I also came across some traces of early 20th century life in the house. On a doorframe in the attic someone had measured his or her child every year, and in one of the built in closets I found a piece of paper with a list of belle argenterie (pretty silverwork), dated January 1, 1915. I know this does not go back that far and is not that extraordinary, but it is nice to find traces of people who lived there so many years ago, in contrast to the current sad, neglected state of the building and its empty rooms.

After the remaining descendants of the baron moved out, the castle was abandoned. For the last couple of years it was guarded by a so-called ‘anti-squatting’ company. Presently the restoration has begun and I am happy to play a part in it.

Black skirting in the attic, possibly dating back to the 17th century

Apart from the attic, which has views of the original roof structure and some painted black skirtings with funny shapes in the corners, most of the surviving interior finishes in the castle appear to be 20th century additions. In some areas, hand-printed 19th century wallpapers are hidden behind them. Although I have to admit at first I was slightly disappointed about finding close to no pre–19th century elements inside, these antique wallpapers are certainly a highly interesting, unique discovery and I could not wait to start in-depth research into their history and origin!

The original roof structure viewed from the attic

Next time I will tell you all about the many different wallpapers I discovered and the fun (and difficulties sometimes) I had figuring them out. I am going to show you some amazing examples of 19th century hand-printed motifs, daring colour combinations and crazy pattern mixes.

Here is a little preview to satisfy your curiosity!

19th century handprinted wallpaper with matching border

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