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

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Green Living 2015

This Saturday (12th September) Standen will be hosting our first (annual) Green Living 2015 event. It will be on from 11am to 4pm and will be exploring different ways that we can save energy and reduce waste.

green mascot 2The National Trust has set us a goal of reducing our energy use by 20% by 2020. In response to this a Green Forum was set up to look at different ways and methods to help Standen achieve this goal. The Green Forum is made up of representatives from across the property, both staff and volunteers, who are passionate about all things Green. Although we have not been active for very long, we have already put in some basic measures to help get our message across, such as placing stickers on light switches and computer monitors reminding people to turn them off when they are not in use of at the end of the day. We have also installed some 4 watt LED light bulbs along the Dog Leg corridor through into the historic kitchen – these alone could save us over a £100 a year.

Being Green is not only about big dramatic projects like installing solar panels or having a biomass boiler, it is also about educating people about why we need to save energy and how we can do so in little ways. This is where our Green Living event comes in.

We need your help to find a name for our Green Mascot - come find us in the courtyard to put forward your favourite

We need your help to find a name for our Green Mascot – come find us in the courtyard to put forward your favorite

On Saturday, there will be several stalls set up in the main Courtyard near the house, where representatives from the Green Forum will be with leaflets and information with tips on how you can save energy in your own home. There will be posters up around the property talking about what measures we , at Standen, have already taken and what we are looking to do in the future. A trail will also be available from the Green Forum stand helping you to explore some of these options. There will also be representatives from the West Sussex County Council talking about their Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

We look forward to welcoming you to Green Living at Standen on Saturday!


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7 Hammersmith Terrace, London - Emery Walker's House

7 Hammersmith Terrace, London – Emery Walker’s House

One of the things that the National Trust promotes is the sharing and learning of knowledge and skills that will benefit different properties, not only within the Trust but also at other historic sites.

To that end, a few of the house team here have been helping out at Emery Walker’s house in London. They are going through a major refurbishment at the moment that will last until late next year. As it is a structural refurbishment, the entire collection needs to be moved into temporary storage so the staff in charge asked for help with the packing.

As you can imagine, moving historic objects, much less an entire collection, involves a lot of planning as well as lots and lots of padding! How you pack an object depends on what it is. Larger objects like furniture or artwork can often be stored with very little padding or protection depending on the conditions in the store. Small objects like ceramics often need to be stored in boxes.

Emery Walker

Emery Walker

The first thing to do is to have central document that the entire team can access so that detailed information about the objects can be noted, especially information about the original location of each object, their condition and where they are going to be stored temporarily and in which box. This inventory is printed off box by box and stored in the relevant one so that there is both a hard copy and electronic version to access – especially useful when you are working to put the objects back in place after the refurbishment is complete.

Another important thing to do when packing is to make sure that you have all the materials to hand, especially lots material that could be used to pad objects such as acid free tissue paper, plastazote (especially useful to line boxes as it is quite thick) and bubble wrap.

Corex Boxes

Corex Boxes

Now boxes – you may think there is a simple answer to the this question of what box to use but it all depends on what type of storage the objects are going into. If its long-term store for, say, part of a collection or archive that is never intended for display, the best boxes to use are acid free card boxes as they are able to withstand a lot of environmental factors like dust and light. For shorter term storage like the collection at Emery Walker’s house, then corex (fluted polypropylene) boxes tend to be less expensive and easier to produce – you can order pre-sized ones or make your own for unusually sized objects. Boxes are also quite handy to store collections in as several items from the same location can be stored together.

Within a box, a layer of plastazote is put in the bottom and along the sides. Plastazote is a thick foam that is completely inert so will not leak any chemicals that could damage an object – by padding the bottom and sides of the box means there will be an extra layer of protection. Although not as effective, bubble wrap can be used instead with the bubble side down.

Interior of packed box

Interior of packed box

The next stage is to put the objects inside. At Emery Walker’s house, we were mostly dealing with ceramic items like chargers, tiles and vases. Each object needs to be individually wrapped in tissue paper – if the object is hollow, tissue paper needs to be place inside to help the support the object. It is important to remember to not overfill boxes or make them to heavy as they will most likely be carried by hand. We placed a blue sticker on the tissue wrapped objects to distinguish them as an object rather than a piece of padding.

Once we were happy with the amount of objects in a box, we then had to pad around the objects to prevent them moving around when the boxes are being moved location. We used more acid free tissue paper and bubble wrap to do so. It is possible to buy or make inserts, again using corex, that divide boxes up so that each object has its own section and therefore requires less padding.

We then put a layer of plastazote on top along with a copy of the inventory before the lid goes on. Once the box is sealed, we tied a label detailing the box number, the materials of the objects inside and another sticker to make it obvious how often it needs to be checked whilst in store – anything with textiles or organic material would need to be checked every 3 – 6 months to ensure that nothing has affected the object like pests, unlike an object made of ceramic or stone that would only need checking once a year or even less.

Dining room at Emery Walker's house

Dining room at Emery Walker’s house

It was a really interesting experience to visit Emery Walker’s house and help pack its collection. Emery Walker was a printer who was closely associated with William Morris and the Morris & Co company. Having an arts and crafts interior to a terraced Georgian building showed the versatility of the prints and fabrics made by Morris and Co. A lot of the objects in the collection were bequeathed to Walker by Morris and Webb helping to further our knowledge of them as people and fathers of the arts and crafts movement.

Some of the objects from the Emery Walker collection are on display here at Standen as part of our Phillip Webb exhibition, on until the 16th November.

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A Fond Adieu…

Yesterday was the 21st June, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It is really the turning point of the year, with summer holidays fast approaching and before we know it will be Christmas! It is also the turning point for me as I near the end of my contract as a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant – this year has just flown by. It feels like it was only yesterday that I started on one of the hottest days of 2014 (fyi – avoid long trousers and a jumper in the future).

I have learnt so much from the house team as well as from the volunteers and the visitors. Standen is one of those properties where you can see the results of a strong team in the atmosphere and the high level of detail that is apparent in everything they do, one which I am lucky to have been a part of. Also one that I look forward to continuing working with in the future.

So last year my predecessor, Hannah, left to be Assistant House Steward at Stourhead. I am not so much leaving as changing role. So from this week, I shall be the Conservation and Engagement Assistant here in the house. This blog through which I have shared my experiences, will become more of a collaboration between the house team and will give you more of an in-depth insight into Standen. Vicky, our House Steward, will be taking over and ensuring that we share some of the stories and tasks that are involved in the day-to-day running of the house.

Although the blog may be a little more sporadic, this will not be the last that you hear from me. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back

On that note, I will leave you with an image of one of my favourite objects here at Standen:

The Grand Piano in the Hall

The Grand Piano in the Hall



Time Passing


This week, I thought that I would bring you the blog in a slightly different format then normal – via a video. Earlier this year, the Larkspur bedroom and dressing room went through a little bit of a makeover and was repainted in Standen White (do not worry the wallpaper is still there!) In order for the rooms to be painted, all of the furniture, paintings, ceramics and fixtures had to be removed  in order to protect them. The video below is a time lapse video that was taken over the 4 days it took the house team to empty both rooms. To add a bit of humor it is set to Tchaikovsky’s Trepak Russian Dance so make sure that you have the volume turned up:

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Preserving Plastic

There was an interesting article in the Guardian recently about the difficulties that the V&A Museum are facing when it comes to preserving plastic objects:

The Blow Chair

The Blow Chair Image Courtesy of The Guardian

The rise in technology has led to the creation of new materials which are used to create art and objects, both decorative and every-day. However, we know very little about the longevity and the process as to how these materials will change. This has become apparent with some of the plastics in the V&A’s collection. Objects such as the Blow chair, designed in 1969, and the Stephen Willats Mini dress, also designed in the 1960s, are starting to degrade to the point beyond repair, and the only way to protect them to keep them in dark, temperature controlled stores.


Stephen Willats Mini dress Image Courtesy of The Guardian

The common assumption with plastics are that they are a stable substance, when in actual fact they are very brittle. The reason plastic is brittle is because plasticers are used in the process to make it malleable. Unfortunately, plasticers have a habit of leaking, making the object sticky, attracting dust and dirt. This stickiness also makes it very difficult to clean as brushes and water only further damage the object. Plastics are also susceptible to changes in temperature, humidity and light, which can lead to discolouration, decaying to a powder, warping, cracking and shrinking – all the things that we try to prevent happening to our collections as a whole.

As plastic is still a relatively new material we do not know as much as we would like in order to prevent damage to it. This is why the V&A has partnered with Imperial College London to try to see how we can prevent further damage as well as its causes. With most other materials that can be found in historic house, there is a history of research that has gone into how we can best look after them.

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to Green

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to Green

Temperature, light and relative humidity are monitored both weekly and biannually. This ensures that we keep an eye on things that might be in danger of deteriorating and we can then assess how best to limit any damage. Humidity causes objects to shrink and grow that leads to stress fractures and cracks as can be seen on the cabinet at the Top of the Stairs. Light not only causes objects to fade but also causes threads to fray and eventually tear. Light also causes a chemical reaction whereas the object will actually change colour – like in the drawing-room where the rose-pink sofa has faded to a murky green colour.

Deep Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

Deep Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, ( dust is another factor that damages the collection as it discolours objects but also forms a hard surface which not only attracts more dust but is also very difficult to clean off without damaging the object.

This is why knowledge and a good cleaning routine are so important. We dust and vacuum the house once a day plus every object gets an annual deep clean every year. It is also why the house may seem cold or dark as we try to preserve it for the future.

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Object of the Month – June: Voysey Linen Press

Linen Press designed by C.F.A Vosey

Linen Press designed by C.F.A Vosey

This linen press in the North Spare Dressing Room was designed by C.F.A Voysey, a renowned architect and furniture designer during the Arts and Crafts period.

A linen press is similar to what we know as a linen or laundry cupboard. They were built to hold sheets, napkins, clothing and other textiles.

Voysey was not only a furniture designer but also an architect and wallpaper designer. He started his own architect practise in 1881 and used furniture and wallpaper design to supplement his income.

One of the common features used to identify Voysey’s work is a simplistic design with clean horizontal and vertical lines. He strongly believe in letting the high quality materials speak for themselves and preferred using unfinished and unpolished materials, especially wood.

Simplicity, sincerity, repose, directness and frankness are moral qualities as essential to good architecture as to good men”. (C.F.A Voysey)






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Deceptive dust…

One of the monthly jobs that we carry out is to dust the Billiards table. The dust is quite deceptive (hence the title) in that the table often looks okay after a month until we move the balls and cues!

A very dusty table

A very dusty table

Usually, all of the flat surfaces in the house will be dusted with a chamois every day so that the dust does not stick and cause problems. Dust mostly consists of lightweight organic materials like skin and clothing fibers along with carbon based products like soot and silica.

The Big Brush

The Big Brush

If dust is left too long, the dust starts to bind itself to the surface  causing a greenish grayish hue to appear on objects. This dust takes a lot of effort to remove and as such could damage the object. One example of this would be if there was a layer of dust embedded on a gilded picture frame – removing the dust could potential take any gilding off with it and just leave a bare wooden frame. So by dusting everyday and by deep cleaning every object once a year we hope to prevent this happening.

The first step with dusting the billiards table is to use a big brush to brush the dust from the edges of the table in the center – the bristle are longer on the two ends so that the bristles reach underneath the lip of the sides. This is when we start to see exactly how dusty the table is


Dirt Devil and Square Mesh

We then place a square piece of mesh onto the edge and run a dirt devil vacuum lightly over the mesh. We use the mesh so that any loose baize or threads are not sucked in, avoiding any potential for damaging the baize. The mesh square is about 30cm by 30cm so this task can take some time. Once the whole table has been vacuumed, we check the table manually, picking up any larger bits of fluff or dirt that was not picked up by the dirt devil.

Once the baize has been cleaned, we run a chamois over the polished wooden edging of the table to give it a little bit of a shine. It is always a satisfying job to do seeing the table all nice and dust free (although it never remains that way for long!).

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Object of the Month: May – Burmantofts Vase

Burmantofts Vase in the Billiard Room

Burmantofts Vase in the Billiard Room

These Burmantofts vases found in the Billiard Room and in Maggie’s studio were bought to Standen by Arthur Grogan, the first caretaker of Standen after Helen Beale’s death.

Burmantofts vases as they are known today were only known under this name for a short time during the company’s 99 year stint as a working pottery.

The original company was set up in Burmantoft, Leeds by John Lassey and William Wilcox in 1845. They originally started a coal mine but when they hit clay in 1858, started producing assorted building materials, like bricks. And pipes. By the time that 1879 rolled around neither of the original founders were alive and the company had passed onto James Holroyd. He started producing decorative items like vases and jardinières in the 1880s.

This move into ceramics bought more fortune to the company enabling them to open a London showroom under the name of the Burmantofts Company. However, this was short lived, soon after Burmantofts merged with five other Leeds based  ceramic companies and became the Leeds Fireclay Company. Production finally stopped in 1957.


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And the loser is …

When I was talking to the volunteers about their favorite wallpapers, it caused quite a bit of discussion and eventually talk turned to the wallpapers that they did not like quite as much. This was less divisive then picking a favourite. There was one clear loser though in this discussion and it was:

Bachelor's Button

Bachelor’s Button

Bachelor’s Button was designed in 1892, one of the last wallpaper designs by William Morris. This wallpaper consists of a series of cornflowers with acanthus leaves. Bachelor’s button was a common name for cornflowers as they were typically worn by young men in love.

Bachelor’s button could be printed in a variety of colours, however it was most popular as a monotone, with the pattern being printed in a light cream colour on a darker background, such as navy blue or teal. This yellowy/orange tone was quite unusual.

This wallpaper is one of the few original wallpapers left in the house. Most of the wallpapers were replaced in the 1960 due to fading and general deterioration but were as closely matched to the originals as possible. The reason Bachelor’s Button was left untouched was because Margaret Beale had it varnished in 1906. By this point her children were having their own children and Margaret wanted to protect the wallpaper from as much damage as possible from sticky little fingers … This is also why its colour is remarkably unfaded – the colour you see today is very much the colour the Beales’ would have seen.

The reason that a lot of the volunteers disliked this wallpaper was because of its colour and that it was fairly  garish and overwhelming.

Powdered wallpaper

Powdered wallpaper

The second least liked wallpaper was Powdered. This is interesting in that it was also picked as the most liked wallpaper and a couple of weeks ago. Also the opposite reasons were chosen as to why people did not like it as they felt it was too regimented and boring – it does not look natural.



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Object of the Month: April – Chinese Ewer

Chinese Ewer from the Dining Room

Chinese Ewer from the Dining Room

This blue and white china ewer found in the Dining Room was made in the mid to second half of the 16th century during the Ming  Dynasty in China. The Ming dynasty was a period of advancement in technology and techniques used in ceramic making.

Ceramicists explored  different colours and showed a preference for painted designs as well as  taking inspiration from foreign styles.

However, blue and white ceramics are some of the most well-known pieces from the Ming Dynasty. The blue colour and shades became clearer and more defined.

There was also a shift in the  economy with emphasis put on producing ceramics and goods to sell overseas across the world. Plates and vases were particularly sought after.

This Chinese ewer is decorated with the ‘magic fountain’ design, a fairly common theme in blue and white Chinese ceramics. It was a theme that evoked the idea of extending life, of living forever. By drinking the liquid from this jug, you could potentially extend your life.

This theme is carried on it’s makers mark, which means ‘Forever preserve late spring’. A wish for longevity, not a date sign.