Interview with Anna Frens
by Marianne Witvliet
Restoring, connecting and enjoying
When and where did you get an interest in monumental buildings?
It started with the love for Nunspeet and the nature around it. De Veluwe is right next to this village. It is a unique and extensive nature reserve with old trees, moraines, sand drifts and heaths. Since his childhood my husband Hein has had an enormous interest in the history, people and stories of this area. He was born in Staverden. I was born in Delft and moved to Hulshorst when I was fifteen. I remember getting off the train somewhere in Nunspeet, breathing in the forest air and feeling at home.
I traveled the world as a flight attendant and lived in England, Switzerland and New Zealand, among other places. The further away I was, the more my love for Europe grew and I realized how much beauty we have.
After our wedding Hein and I started a business. When that was up and running, we were able to buy the first monumental building: our house. We renovated it while preserving the Jugendstil ceilings and Art Deco stained glass windows. This is where our children grew up and at the same time it was our office.
How have you shaped that love over the years?
Later on, the building of Dutch Hair on the Stationslaan crossed our path. It was half overgrown and looked sad. All the beautiful wood carvings outside had been removed over the years. The municipality wanted to get rid of it and I remember saying: the person who knows how to renovate this building, I will embrace. Then we did it ourselves, because we made an offer and it was accepted.
The reality was that I was still very busy with the kids and Hein had his business, but we found an opportunity to restore it as it once was. I am still grateful that we were able to pull this off.
When I drive past it now, all I think is: Wow.
Village Inn De Roskam is your first building with a hospitality purpose. How exciting was this experience?
Suddenly you get to the point where the children have left the parental home. You have built your business and are more or less confronted with a new challenge: what do you want to do with the rest of your life? I used to love focusing on facilitating and nurturing. A new challenge was very welcome.
Hein has a collection of old postcards, showing De Roskam in its former glory. It's one of those buildings we both fell in love with, just like De Villa on the Stationslaan.
On King's Day 2017, we were sitting in the new restaurant Banka, just enjoying ourselves. It was already late and at the last minute, Henk Barneveld, owner of De Roskam, walked in. We had a chat and he told us the hotel was for sale. We asked him how much he wanted for it. He quoted an amount and I kicked Hein under the table. When we visited that week, we knew right away that it would have to be completely stripped, but the person who did the math for us thought it was achievable to renovate it and turn it into a healthy business.
Since we are not entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry, we wondered what we would do with it. A traditional cafe? A group accommodation? In the end, we decided that the idea of an authentic village inn matched our own dreams of a hangout, where you can meet up with your friends and strangers can join together. A place you walk into because you know someone is there. Where you can drink a good cup of coffee or a special beer. Then questions follow such as how many hotel rooms there will be, what concept you choose and by whom you will have it operated.
I realized that the thought of doing it myself challenged me and I remembered a quote from Pippi Longstocking, "I have never tried that before, so I should definitely be able to do it." That’s how I started this adventure smiling and confident.
Did that create any bottlenecks you had to face?
There are a lot of regulations you have to comply with. The Netherlands has strict regulations regarding escape routes, fire safety, inspection services for products & retail and so on.
At the moment, you have to deal with a great shortage of professionals such as carpenters, bricklayers and painters. The market is complicated and prices are rising. We don't have a strict planning, we work step by step. We suffered delays and at one point we seriously considered quitting. But I kept believing in it and so De Roskam became my own amazing challenge. Now I'm in the final stages of the process. I aim to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. That can be done with colors, the right people, the right dishes and the details. I love sustainability and good quality, that's what I want to offer.
You work alongside professionals. Is it a conscious choice to be in the middle of it?
Absolutely. I want to connect people. That way you use each other's energy and creativity. That adds value to restoration. I love to wipe the floor and clean up together after a long day of work. I imagine foreign guests interacting with local people. Then new stories are created and old stories are revived. I imagine people who arrive, walk with you for a while and then go their separate ways again. Maybe mutual friendships will develop. Generally speaking, we target nature lovers. In a ten kilometer radius you have a great variety of landscapes and interesting towns. We want to show that to our guests.
But above all, here we have De Roskam in all its glory. We hope that in the next few decades the Village Inn will bring a smile to people’s faces. That villagers are proud of this building and want to show it off.
It is the crowning glory for us.