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

Object in Focus: Corner Armchair

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You might have seen my post from a few days ago asking you to keep an eye out for our new Objects in Focus series…well, here’s our first object!

18th Century Corner Armchair

18th century corner open armchair

This 18th century corner open armchair is displayed in the Hall

This chair is on permanent display in the Hall, and it’s one of the first objects our visitors glimpse as they make their way into the house. I was always intrigued by its unusual shape, and having had a number of visitors ask me about the origins of the chair, I thought this would make a good starting point for our spotlight on objects.

The chair is from the 18th century, and is an interesting shape; described as a ‘corner open armchair‘. It is made from fruitwood, and the seat is covered in red velvet.

This piece of furniture is particularly interesting, as we know that it belonged to the Beale family before Standen was built, and they brought it with them when they moved here in 1894.

More than meets the eye…

Anne Stutchbury is a Standen volunteer who is currently researching the Beale family archive as part of her PhD project. Anne told me that there is more to this chair than first appears…she’d come across evidence that the chair may have been altered from a commode corner chair. An 1894 invoice that she’d come across in her research suggested that this chair, or one very like it, had been altered by one Charles Sale of Kensington:

‘Altering 1 commode corner chair…making new seat, upholstering same and covering in calico 15s.0d’

Charles Sale Invoice July 20th 1894

The 1894 invoice from Charles Sale of Kensington, detailing alterations to a number of pieces of furniture – including the corner armchair

Commode chairs like this one were not unusual in the 18th and 19th centuries. A chamber pot would have been hidden underneath the removable seat, and the chair placed somewhere discreet, such as a bedroom.

The Beale family were great admirers of antique furniture, which they thought was often better made and more refined than the furniture they could buy new. It would not be unusual for them to buy antique furniture and then pay for it to be repaired or altered so that it better met their needs.

Bug damage…

The back of the chair is rather damaged. At first glance the chair appears to be a well-loved and well-used piece of furniture, but the damage is not from use or age: it was actually caused by a woodworm infestation. Woodworm are the larvae of furniture beetles, and they live and feed inside wood, often causing serious damage to furniture.

The best line of defence against future pest damage to our collection is cleaning and inspection, and controlling the conditions objects are kept in.

Author: Hannah Severn

I'm a trainee Conservation & Interpretation Assistant at Standen, a National Trust Arts & Crafts house and garden in West Sussex.

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