Standen

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


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Focus on – the morning room

The morning room is one of my favourite rooms. It faces south and east so naturally gets the morning sun. It was the ideal place for the ladies of the family to get out of the way of the servants so they can clean and not be disturbed.

Bright and sunny can cause us a few problems though – we have lots of things in the room which are sensitive to light. We’ve recently put new blinds in that are a mesh kind of fabric that cuts out a lot of the light but also can be seen through to outside.

It’s the only room in the house that has fabric hangings on the walls in this way – a bit like medieval houses had tapestries on their walls. The hangings up at the moment are reprints by Morris & Co. from about the 1970s, but we have a small scrap leftover from the originals that has been made into a cushion.

Morris and Co adjustable chair in the Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The original colours and scale of the Daffodil fabric hangings in the morning room

We get asked a lot what is underneath them – it’s just plaster and lining paper! If you visited last year you might have seen it as we’d taken down the hangings to allow the wall to dry out as we’d had a leaky downpipe outside.

We have also fairly recently replaced the sacrificial carpet on the floor – the old one had been down for a very long time and was developing some fairly extensive holes from all the feet walking on it.

The Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The morning room with its old carpet

We wanted to ensure that the replacement carpet was similar to that which the Beales had in the room, rather than just any old carpet. Luckily we had a volunteer who was working with our family archives for her PhD and she, alongside our curator, were able to identify the style of carpet the Beales had. If you look in the photo below you can see the geometric border of the carpet.

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This photo of two Beales in the morning room was very helpful indeed

Our curator was then able to go to carpet suppliers and specify exactly what we were looking for.

After we got the carpet we realised that we’d not only got a carpet very similar to the Beales’ original, but, looking at their receipt, had also managed to buy it from the very same place!


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What to do with the carpet?

It’s November and we’re running our usual focus on conservation weekends with demonstrations and an exhibition.

As we cover up the Larkspur bedroom we have a small carpet we need to store for the duration. As you might guess, we have a very particular way of storing carpets – and this is how…

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Hearth rug from the Larkspur Bedroom

We can’t fold it because textile weakens on the creases over time and can crack, so we have to roll it.

To roll it, first we turn it over – so much easier with a small carpet – when we rolled the carpet in the drawing room it took 6 of us to turn it over!

Hand made carpets are made vertically so they have a distinct direction of the pile – they feel smooth as you run your hand down it. Turning the carpet over and rolling from the top  down means we open the dense weave of the pile helping dust and ingrained dirt to get out.

We use an ordinary plastic drainpipe to roll carpets onto. It’s cheap, can be cut to size and easy to get hold of. It’s also fairly lightweight while being pretty sturdy, which is important when you think just how heavy huge carpets can be.

We wrap the drainpipe with acid free tissue and roll the carpet with tissue in between the layers to protect it (it’s easiest if you can find nice big pieces of tissue) and begin to roll.

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The view from the business end

You have to stop every so often to check the carpet is rolling straight, so the edges of the carpet are supported – if your ends are unsupported they can be damaged over time. However, sometimes the edges of the carpet aren’t straight, so we support them with little sausages of acid free tissue.

Once we’ve rolled it we wrap it  – in this case we’ve used a non-woven fabric called Tyvek. The ends are tied or tucked in to stop dust getting in and we can put it away.

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Finished and ready to store!

This carpet isn’t going away for long, just until spring next year when we will take down the conservation exhibition and reinstate the Larkspur rooms.


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Good Clean Fun….

One of our annual tasks in the house, is to deep clean all of the rooms. Recently, I have been helping to finish off the Dining room before its goes to a night-time scene at the end of this month.

Brush dusting the sideboard in the Dining room

Brush dusting the sideboard in the Dining room

Every morning we will dust flat surfaces and vacuum the visitor route but the deep clean takes it to the next level. It means moving most of the objects off any surfaces, dusting and inspecting both, checking for any damage. IT also means crawling under tables and chairs to get rid of cobwebs and dust as well as inspecting the carpets for insect activity like carpet beetle and clothes moth. This happens in every single room and corridor in the house that is open to the public.

In the past, the majority of this deep clean took place in the winter months when the house was closed. But this year it has been different. We are now open for 363 days of the year, leading to interesting debates on the effect this may have (or may not have) on the collection. So the deep clean is now being carried out whilst we are open and in front of volunteers and visitors.

As we are open longer, we have already noticed an increase in our work so trying to fit in deep cleaning can be difficult. Our Assistant House Steward always tries her best to plan days where at least one person can do the deep clean but it is the nature of heritage that things pop up.

The Dining room has taken us 5 days over a 1 month period to complete and there is a noticeable difference to the room. A lot of the plates that look like they are cream are actually an off white colour, whilst the dust on the tablecloth also made it look yellow but it is now a lovely snowy white.

Now that the Dining room is complete, it is off to start the next one – the Drawing room. This is by far one of the more complex rooms to deep clean as there is so many objects and pieces of furniture. I got to clean the Mosque lamp this morning, which matches the one in the Conservatory and were both bought during Mr and Mrs Beale’s world tour in 1906.

Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room


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Environmental Monitoring…

Running a historic house involves lots of different kinds of work, which we divide up into daily, weekly and annual jobs. One of the weekly jobs is to monitor the light, humidity and temperature. If the levels are wrong, than the collection deteriorates and becomes permanently damaged.

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink...

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink…

Light is one of the main causes of damage in any house, not just historic ones. It can be quite easy to see some of the damage through fading of colors but this is really only an outwardly sign of deeper damage. A high amount of light activates the chemicals, that make up the color, to react and change. One of the best examples that we have here of this is  the velvet upholstery on the sofa and matching chairs in the Drawing Room – they used to be a bright rose-pink but are now green.

Light also affects the threads in fabric, causing them to break down and snap leading to tears and rips. Ever handled something that has fallen apart in your hands when you  pick it up? This is what can happen to fabrics like curtains, carpets and tapestries.

Humidity levels are different for every type of object. For example, the correct humidity level for metals is too dry for wood, which would cause the wood to dry out and split. If the humidity is too low, organic materials like leather and wood shrink, crack and even in extreme cases, break. If the humidity levels are too high, than organic materials swell and stick, like drawers in a desk. High humidity causes dampness which in turn encourages mould and fungi. It also attracts insect pests and cause metals to rust.

Temperatures has two effects on collections. It is directly linked to humidity levels, so if it is hot, then humidity levels will be low and vice versa. Low temperature, especially sub-zero ones, will cause objects to become brittle and crack, whilst high temperatures can soften and melt some materials.

Environmental Monitor

Environmental Monitor

It can be difficult to find the right balance between these factors, which is why we monitor them at least once a week. In order to attempt to prevent damage, we have set budgets. In every room, there are certain objects that have been deemed as at a higher risk than others, which is determined by several factors, their materials or their historical significance to the house. These are the objects that we measure off using an environmental monitor.

This measure light or lux levels, relative humidity (RH) and temperature. We record it manually and take action a level is too high or low. Light is the easiest to fix as we can adjust the blinds, which is why it can sometimes be a little bit dark at times. Humidity and temperature is a bit harder to fix as it often involves adjusting heating levels and putting out humidifiers/de-humidifiers.

 

 


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Wax, Wax Everywhere…

Vicky and I Waxing the Porch

One of the jobs that we carry out every year is to wax the wooden floors and the clay tiles. This is one of those un-glamorous jobs that usually involves people getting covered in wax (Well me at least!).

In the past, wooden floors were kept clean by washing them with diluted lime or lime water and then rubbed with sand to keep them shiny. By the time the Beales had built their house, the fashion was to wax them.

In order to protect them now, we use a combination of methods. The first is that we vacuum the floors every morning before we open and look out for any broken or damaged pieces of wood or tile.

Another way that we use to protect the flooring is druggets under the carpets. A drugget is long piece of canvas, carpet or matting laid underneath the carpet to protect the floor from staining and general wear and tear as well as providing a non slip base.

Harrell's Wax

Harrell’s Wax

Waxing the floor provides a coating that wears away under people’s feet so that the floor does not get worn, which is why we replace it periodically.

The wax that we use on wooden floors is called Harrell’s and is used by the National Trust across the country as it has been specially formulated for historic flooring. It is a dark honey colored wax that we rub into the floor using cloths.

We apply it following the grain of the wood and apply it liberally. We only use it on the exposed pieces of flooring as the flooring under the carpets and furniture retains its wax for a long time.  Although we wax annually, it sometimes feels as if the floor is drinking it in like water!

The wax takes over 4 hours to dry so we leave it overnight. The next day we buff it with a floor polisher machine, that takes quite a lot guidance to keep it going in the right direction! If it is only a small part of the floor, such as the edges around the carpet in the morning room, then we hand buff it using a clean dust cloth.

The Billiard Room after its Waxing

The Billiard Room after its waxing


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Spending a day at Chartwell

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Chartwell: the house is currently under-wraps and resting after a busy open season

Earlier this week, I spent a day working at the NT-managed Chartwell; the family home of Sir Winston Churchill. Trust staff often spend a day or two helping out or job shadowing at other NT sites as part of their career development, and it was something that I was looking forward to doing.

Every Trust property is unique, and so it’s always useful to see how different properties manage the challenges that their site presents. In the case of Chartwell, I was interested to find out how they balance their high visitor numbers (it’s one of the most visited sites in the South East) with their conservation responsibilities. Chartwell has two Assistant House Stewards – the position that my own role is roughly based on – and so I was also interested to find out what their jobs entailed.

Chartwell - Drawing Room

It was the Drawing Room’s turn to get its winter clean…

Chartwell is of a comparable size to Standen, and is similarly a much-loved family home nestled in a striking landscape. I was excited to get the chance to be nosy, and see behind closed doors at another property; especially one as famous as this!

The property is set in a picturesque landscape, and on the morning I arrived, the surrounding hillside was hidden beneath a layer of frost and mist. Churchill had a great love of painting and drew inspiration from the landscape around Chartwell – and looking around, I could see why.

I started the day by meeting the team, and having a tour of the house. Although the site is open 363 days a year, the house itself is open March to November and is currently under wraps and resting after a busy open season. In November, at the end of the season, the house was ‘put to bed’: windows were shuttered, blinds were closed and objects were covered in dust sheets and acid-free tissue paper. When a house gets as many visitors as Chartwell, it’s really important that it has some respite, and that the house team are able to carry out their winter clean by inspecting and cleaning the collection.

Chartwell - bureau

This wonderful (if rather large!) bureau took a while to clean…

After the tour of the house, I began to help the team with the winter clean in the Drawing Room. The contents of Chartwell are fascinating: although the house has many fine pieces, objects are particularly precious because of their connection to Churchill, and not necessarily because they are a fine example of a particular artist or designer. I set to work inspecting and cleaning the huge bureau, which held some interesting bits and pieces inside; including some headed Chartwell notepaper.

In terms of balancing their high numbers of visitors with caring for an historic house, visitor flow through the house is managed by using timed tickets, so that visitor entry to the house is staggered. This helps with the logistics of moving lots of people around a relatively small space, and also eases the strain on the contents of the house.  

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One of a pair of lamps from the Drawing Room at Chartwell

The way the visitor route is arranged through the rooms also helps conserve Chartwell’s collection – for instance, some of the rooms are roped off at a specific point, from which visitors view the room; therefore helping to protect it from physical wear and tear. At Standen, we have replaced some objects – carpets, for instance – with ‘sacrificial’ items that are historically appropriate but can be used or walked upon, enabling visitors to move around rooms. However, visitors to a place such as Chartwell expect to see objects and furnishings belonging to Churchill, so roping certain rooms off at points in order to conserve the contents is a good way of striking a balance.

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Contents of one of the drawers in the Drawing Room

I enjoyed helping the Chartwell team with their winter clean, and it was a real privilege to be able to clean objects connected to such a well-known and respected figure. It was also a good chance to observe how different historic houses have different approaches to managing conservation concerns and visitor access.


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Rolling the Drawing Room carpet

Yesterday I wrote about how we’ve been spending the last few days getting the Drawing Room ready for the decorators. The final stage was to roll the huge William Morris carpet, which we did this morning. It can be a little tricky to roll carpets (especially a carpet of this size), and it often takes several tries before the carpet is successfully rolled. I thought I’d share a few photos of the process, and a shot of the Drawing Room now that its (finally!) ready for the decorators.

Rolling the Drawing Room carpet

The carpet is initially rolled on to a length of plastic piping, and layers of tissue paper are added to protect each roll of the carpet

Drawing Room carpet

Now the carpet is completely covered in a tissue layer, it’s time to start rolling!

                                                

Drawing Room carpet

Plenty of hands on deck makes the whole process much easier!

Drawing Room carpet

Rolling the carpet is a slow process – it needs to be rolled as tightly on to the plastic pipe as possible

Drawing Room

Once we’ve covered the objects in the centre with dust sheets, the room will be ready for the decorators to begin