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

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Object of the Month: Utrecht Velvet

Easy Chair in the Drawing Room

Easy Chair in the Drawing Room

Utrecht velvet is a strong, thick plush velvet that is most commonly used in upholstery. Here, it has been used to upholster three easy chairs that were designed and built by Morris & Co.

The pattern is stamped onto the velvet making it appear darker and slightly raised.

The Dutch Suite, Titanic, in First Class Image Courtsey of CyArk

The Dutch Suite, Titanic, in First Class
Image Courtsey of CyArk

Utrecht velvet was first produced in the Low Countries of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Morris adapted this idea and sold it from 1871.

It was manufactured through Heaton & Co in Manchester, who were later employed by White Star Line to decorate the interiors of the Titanic. Utrecht velvet was used for the walls of the Dutch Suite, which was part of the first class accommodation in the Titanic.


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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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Object in Focus: Corner Armchair

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.