Standen

What goes on behind the scenes at Standen House, an Arts & Crafts family home


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Washing Wallpaper…

Willow Bough wallpaper, William Morris 1887

Willow Bough wallpaper, William Morris 1887

Wallpaper is one those items in a house that seems replaceable; a product of mass production that can be changed to suit your furniture or your mood. However, in the past, wallpaper was an incredibly rare thing and actually very valuable.

Wallpapers started out as a product that the slightly less elite (though still very wealthy) could use in place of tapestries. In fact they were hung like tapestries too – as a large sheet of paper. Now this is around the 16th century so they were hand printed and hand painted. Now as you can imagine, these wallpaper hangings did not last very long and as such not many still survive today – the earliest surviving piece dates to 1509 and is only a very small piece.

Silk Wallpaper found at Polesden Lacey

Silk Wallpaper found at Polesden Lacey

Fast forward to Henry VII and his decision to split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, this caused a huge falling out between trading companies in Europe (especially between France and England) and as the aristocrats no longer had access to large Flemish tapestries that were oh so fashionable and popular so they turned to wallpaper instead.

Hand painted Chinese wallpaper made around 1780

Hand painted Chinese wallpaper made around 1780

By the mid 18th century, England was the leading wallpaper manufacturer in Europe and started to make more affordable designs aimed at the middle classes. As they were more affordable and more available, manufacturers had to make certain wallpapers that would still appeal to the aristocrats and the mega rich so they started experimenting with wallpapers that acted like materials, like leather, silk and velvet. the most popular turned out to be flocked wallpaper, where a designed was pressed onto paper and then pieces of wool or silk were blown across it and they only stuck to the printed design. Oriental designs were also becoming increasingly popular so plain wallpapers were shipped off to the China and Japan, whereupon they were hand painted with oriental designs and images of everyday life.

Along came the 19th century and the development of steam-powered printing presses, this meant that wallpaper became available to everyone, not just the rich and aristocracy. It also heralded an age of more scenic wallpapers with French influences.

By the time of the 20th century, wallpaper had established itself as one of the most popular items in a house but unfortunately its reign had to come to an end and the idea of wallpaper gave way to pain painted walls towards the late 1900s.

Cleaning Wallpapers:

So over the last few hundred years that wallpaper has been around, there have been suggested many different ways of keeping it clean.

Play-Doh - known as Kutol - originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner

Play-Doh – known as Kutol – originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner

As most wallpapers were regarded as insignificant, there was little bother in cleaning them. However,  it where finer wallpapers are involved that it gets interesting. For these wallpapers, light levels were kept to a minimum and some were even varnished to protect them. Some maids dusted the wallpapers whilst others used bread dough to help get rid if dirt. unfortunately bread dough leaves behind traces that insects and molds love or they became greasy and streaky. Play-doh, the beloved children’s toy, was originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s. However, when a classroom of children started using it to make models, the marketing changed and it became a children’s toy.

Nowadays with historic wallpapers we use methods that involve less chemical and avoid taking the wallpaper off the wall unless strictly necessary.

Why we clean wallpaper:

We clean wallpaper in order to preserve it for longer. If we left it dusty or with stains a) it does not look very nice and b) often dirt and stains hide a bigger problem.

Cleaning wallpaper at Standen:

The water stain behind the wallpaper in the South Spare

The water stain behind the wallpaper in the South Spare

We had a similar case with the wallpaper in the South Spare bedroom. With all the rains last spring, one of the chimneys sprung a leak and seeped down through the house. The wallpaper got wet and then later dried out leaving a brown water mark. If we had left the leak the water would eventually have flooded the room and done a lot more damage. By catching it at the water mark stage we managed to repair the leak and re-point the chimney to ensure it is watertight. However with that fixed, the wallpaper needed to be inspected and cleaned to check for any further damage – damp walls tend to grow mold and attract silverfish who eat away layers of paper.  The wallpaper was dampened until the adhesive gave way and the wallpaper sheet was gently peeled away – it takes a lot of skill to keep damp wallpaper in one sheet. It was then wet cleaned – a sponge slightly dampened with a mild soap and water is applied gently to the wallpaper removing the water stains.

Left: Dirty Right: Cleaned

Left: Dirty Right: Cleaned

When the chimney sprung a leak, it also damaged some of the paper in the Larkspur bedroom. This had already been wet cleaned once (which can only be done once in its lifetime) so  historic larkspur wallpaper was pasted over the top – so seamlessly it is difficult to spot which is the original.

Our Wallpaper Conservator cleaning the Trellis wallpaper in the Dog Leg Corridor

Our Wallpaper Conservator cleaning the Trellis wallpaper in the Dog Leg Corridor

while our wallpaper conservator was here we thought it wise to ask him to clean the trellis wallpaper in the dog leg corridor. Being trapped in a small space created by a false ceiling caused dust and dirt to build up. A smoke sponge, was used to clean this wallpaper, gently erasing away any buildups of dirt and marks.

 


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Filtering Light

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to GreenLight is one of the most damaging factors in conservation. Light damage is quite easy to spot as causes quite dramatic fading or bleaching but for other objects it can be even more damaging. For textiles like cushions and wall hangings light causes fibers to break down and eventually tear. For organic materials, like paper and animal based glues, they become brittle whilst vanishes and oils harden and flake.

Light falls across a spectrum and different ends cause different problems, such as Ultra Violet (UV), visible (which is the only part of the light spectrum that humans can see) and infrared radiation (which we feel as heat). The most damaging part of the light spectrum for historic collections is UV.

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The UV Film ready to go

Ideally UV levels should be at zero but it is impossible to prevent UV from reaching collections as it is present in both natural light and light bulbs. Fortunately the light bulbs here in the house do not emit too much UV but the windows and doors present another problem.

In order to prevent as much damage as we can, we follow a strict light plan by limiting the number of hours the blinds and shutters are open. we also use UV filters on all of the windows and doors.

UV filters are made up of a polyester film that absorbs and reflect UV. However it is not perfect and does let in some UV. UV film lasts between 10 – 12 years during which point air bubbles and cracks start to appear. We have recently had our filters replaced which was very interesting to watch.

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The UV Film being applied to the Half Landing Windows

Firstly the old film had to be removed which is rather simple – it is literally pulled off the windows and then any residue left on the glass is scraped off with a razor blade. The glass is then washed. The new film is then stuck on using water as its adhesive. it sounds very simple but the new film has to be tested before being applied to ensure it is up to the job and then it has to be cut to fit the pane of glass exactly. You can imagine in certain places here, like the windows on the Half landing, taking a long time!

 


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Object of the Month: February 2015 – The Grand Piano

When Standen was given to the National Trust, members of the family were invited to take a memento and one descendant took the Grand Piano that was in the Alcove in the Hall. It has recently been returned too us through a generous donation.

The Grand Piano back in the Hall

The Grand Piano back in the Hall

The piano  was made by Broadwood in June 1898 and was delivered to the Beales’ on the 14th November 1898. The porters’ book entry for its delivery reads:

“Mrs. James S. Beale, 32 Holland Park W

A no. 4 Drawing Room cross-strung Gd Pf Rosewood a to c no. 45059

175 guineas for £156 net delivered to ditto.

Tune 6 months free then 4 @ 21/-

& moving a Collard Gd Pf in the house”

32 Holland Park was the Beales’ London address, where they lived until they moved to Standen permanently in 1905.

The Piano in the Hall in the early 1900s

The Piano in the Hall in the early 1900s

Broadwood & Sons was created in 1808 but has a history dating back to the early 1700s. At its peak, they were making 2500 pianos a year. Broadwood & Sons gained further recognition when Chopin used one on his first visit to London and soon other well-known people, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  were buying them.

Broadwood & Sons still exists today and regularly tune the pianos here.

 


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Object of the Month: January – Vase by William De Morgan

Red Luster Vase

Red Luster Vase

Sitting underneath the mother of pearl cabinet in the Hall Alcove, is this two handled Red Luster vase by William De Morgan.

Luster ware pottery has a metallic glaze that makes it look different colors based on what light you view it through. De Morgan rediscovered this technique around 1873—74, after many years of experimentation.

This vase is covered in fish, which was a common theme in De Morgan’s work. He took inspiration form the East,    particularly that of Hispanic and Italian origin, as well as further afield.

De Morgan did not only produce vases, he also produced tiles, other ceramics and stained glass windows. All of which were sold through Morris & Co.

William De Morgan

William De Morgan

De Morgan originally met William Morris when he attended the royal academy of arts. He had quickly become disillusioned by the ideas there and turned to Morris and the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

He set up his first ceramic studio in 1872, in Chelsea but was not very   successful at the start. His early work contained a lots of firing defects and irregularities. By the time he moved to Fulham, his work had become what you see today but he was beset by financial difficulties. Despite regular cash injections by his wife, Evelyn De Morgan an artist in her own right, De     Morgan could not afford to keep the pottery going so it was sold. De  Morgan eventually found success as a writer.

 


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Copper Green…

The Copper Kettle

The Copper Kettle

This kettle made out of brass and cooper was designed by Christopher Dresser. Like any metals in an oxygenated environment, copper and brass need to be cleaned at least once a year to help them their shine.

In order to clean this kettle, two substances are used; Autosol which is a metal polish that removes oxidation  rust, stains and corrosion, without being too corrosive. Autosol is applied to a small piece of cotton wool and then rubbed gently to remove any dirt or corrosion. Cotton

buds are used on smaller harder to reach areas, such as where the

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

handle joins the pot, to free it of as much dirt and discoloration as possible.

The kettle was then buffed slightly before a layer of Rennaisance wax was was added using a specially designated hogs hair brush, which is the second substance.This adds a barrier to prevent some moisture and oxygen from reaching the surface causing corrosion.

Green stained dirt

Green stained dirt


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Front of House

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One of our very welcoming volunteers on duty on the Porch

One of the most important jobs that we do here as staff, is to ensure that our volunteers are happy and enjoying what they do for us. We do this mostly through front of house duties.

Doing front of house basically means ensuring that the house runs smoothly on a daily basis. This is a role that we split between myself, the Assistant House Steward, House Steward and House Manager.

We start off the day with a briefing. This is to update everyone, staff and volunteers, on things that are happening that day, such as if there are any groups coming or if there is a new exhibition starting. It also means that any information from other departments like the garden team, are passed on to keep everyone updated, such as updates on the Garden Revival project. We also let each volunteer know what room they are guiding in for that shift.

Once  we are open, we will go around the house and see how the room guides are doing – It gives me an excuse for a quick catch up as well. We are also on hand to answer any queries or requests that the room guide feels unable to answer fully or generally lend a hand if it is busy.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

Front of house does bring its own challenges especially with us being open 363 days of the year now. Often I find myself going from room to room covering tea breaks or covering the room whilst the guide goes and does an introductory talk – one of my favorite rooms to cover is the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. However  this does give me the opportunity to connect with our visitors and find out what they like and dislike about the house.

Being front of house is always an interesting way to spend the day. Every day is different, with new questions, challenges and demonstrations. I always find that I learn something new, whether from a visitor, volunteer or member of staff.

Happy New Year


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Chim Chim Cher-ee

This winter, we have been able to light the fire in the Hall for the first time in over 40 years. But there are always a few things that need to be checked before lighting a fire in such a historic and unused fireplace.

Testing the Chimney to see if there are any gapsChimneys need to be swept regularly so that the flues remain clear of soot, debris and birds nests (especially in unused ones – see previous posts about birds coming down the chimneys in the bedrooms upstairs here). Also they need to be swept so the gases can escape safely out of the top of the chimney as opposed to building up and causing a chimney fire. All of this will help to increase the chimney’s ability to draw the smoke up instead of out into the room and generally help to keep the fire going.

Much like in the song in ‘Mary Poppins‘, brushes are still used today – technology has not changed that much due to the confines of space in the chimney, the main change has been that vacuums are used in some to help get rid of build ups of soot and tar. The brush are twirled upwards to dislodge any soot and tar until the brush pokes out the very top of the chimney. A series of poles are used to extend the brush to make it long enough.

One of the other jobs that needed to be done, was to line the chimney. If a chimney is not lined and burns wood, tar builds up on the inside and eventually seeps through the walls leaving black/brown stains. If lined incorrectly, the flue can also start to leak smoke and fumes such as carbon monoxide as well as leading to poor updraught. The main reason that we got the chimney lined was a precaution against moisture and tar leaking through the walls. Also as it was last used in 1972, we needed to make sure that the chimney would draw well.

We have been lighting the fire every weekend in December and will do so over the 27th and 28th December if you would like to come and have a sit down by it (House open 11am – 3pm). You will be very welcome to.

Merry Christmas everyone.The fire all warm and cozy

 

 

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