Standen

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


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Standen’s deep clean

If you visit Standen you may see some of our conservation team working in the house. They might be dusting, but they could also have pulled all the drawers out of a cabinet and are cleaning them. There also might be a team of volunteers dusting books or cleaning metal objects.

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Metal cleaning in the kitchen

So what’s going on? Well, as part of the routine of caring for the house we clean all of it, every year, from top to bottom, and everything in it.

Our team of specialist preventative conservation cleaners work systematically through the house, dusting glass and ceramics with special brushes, vacuuming textiles with low suction and taking furniture apart to get to all the nooks and crannies and to make sure they are in the best possible condition.

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Dusting the dining table glassware with a soft brush.

They note any changes on object condition reports and record what they have done. This is important as we have over 6000 objects in our collection and couldn’t possibly remember them all!

So why are you seeing this now? Traditionally, National Trust houses would close for 3 or 4 months in winter to do all of this work behind the scenes. The house would be “put to bed” and covered up, only uncovered to be cleaned and finally when we reopened to the public in March. Now we are open we can share the work that the house and collection needs to ensure that it is in the best possible condition for our visitors to enjoy.

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The Hall covered up for winter in 2009.

If you want to know more we run three weekends in November where we talk about the work we do – you might even get the chance to have a go! Or you could read the blog next time…

 

 

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An unexpected closed day

Last Monday, the 8th of February, was the day of Storm Imogen and for the first time ever we were closed due to wind! We did of course suffer badly in the 1987 storm, but that was back in the day when the property closed for long periods. Imogen was nowhere near as bad as that storm, luckily.

Storm Damage Root of Cedar Oct 1987

Standen in 1987

We have a number of criteria that we use to decide whether it is safe for us to open on a day like this. These look at wind speed, speed of the gusts, direction and what the rest of the weather is like (if it’s been very wet, for instance) as well as if there are leaves on the trees. So for us, like many other NT properties in the south and west, on Monday it was not safe for us to open to the public.

However, we were able to let staff come onto the site. The house team took advantage of being closed to clean a part of the house which is a little awkward to do when we are open – the Morning Room Corridor.

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The Garrett bookcase without books! You can just see the Rooke paintings above the bookcase here.

We would normally do this over a few days, but moving and cleaning the large Garrett bookcase involves us taking all of the books off the shelves and having to find somewhere to put them. We have a large pile of displaced books from the Morning Room after it was painted recently stashed under the billiard table already so we haven’t really got any space for more books. However, because we were closed we could put them all in the Business Room without getting in our visitors’ way! It also meant that we could pull the bookcase out and give it a really thorough clean behind.

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The books from the bookcase, carefully labelled so we know where to put them back…

We also gently dusted the frames of the lovely T.M. Rooke watercolours – Rooke was good friends with Philip Webb and Kelmscott House have a lovely painting of Caxtons, the cottage near Crawley that Webb retired to with the help of his friends.

Luckily we had very little damage from the storm and opened again the following day – with the deep clean in the Morning Room Corridor completed!


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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: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/19/va-conservators-race-to-preserve-art-and-design-classics-in-plastic

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.

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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, (https://standennt.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/deceptive-dust/) 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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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

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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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Scrubbing Churchill …

Chartwell

Chartwell

Recently I went to Chartwell for a day to shadow Flick and Sophie, the 2 assistant house stewards there.

Chartwell has a diverse history. it was originally a farmhouse that was builtin the 16th century, under the name of Well Street. Apparently, Henry VII stayed there during his courtship of Anne Boleyn, who was raised at nearby Hever Castle. During the 19th century, the farmhouse was significantly, enlarged and modified into the red brick Victorian building you see today complete with tile hung gables and oriel windows – bay windows on higher levels so they do not reach the ground.

Churchill comes into play around about 1922, when him and his wife, Clementine, bought it as their

The Garden Studio

The Garden Studio

principal home. Chuchill hired an architect by the name of Phillip Tilden to modernize the house, especially with regards to bringing more light as oriel windows were notoriously poky and small. Tilden followed the thoughts of Edward Lutyens, who disregarded the fashionable Tudor revival style and instead made each house part of its landscape. The gardens were also refurbished at the same time and a series of lakes created to house Churchill’s precious fish. The gardens provided much inspiration for Churchill’s paintings, many of which he painted in his garden studio.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

However, financial struggle struck in 1938 and Churchill put Chartwell up for sale. With the advent of World War 2 and with Churchill’s rising position in government, Chartwell was deemed unsafe for Churchill and his wife to live in due to its proximity to the English Channel and to the main road. Instead Churchill and his wife spent their weekdays in London and weekends in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

After World War 2, with strained finances, Churchill put Chartwell back on the market. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. To thank Churchill for his efforts during the war, a group of business men got together and bought Chartwell. They charged him minimal rent on the condition that once both him and Clementine had passed on, Chartwell would be given to the National Trust. Upon Churchill’s death in 1965, Clementine decided to pass the house to the National Trust straight away. Clementine did, however, specify the route that the visitors would follow and still do today.

Churchill's Study

Churchill’s Study

One of the things that Churchill loved and this was untreated pine. to this end, as part of the modifications that Churchill made, large parts of the wood used was pine. As it is untreated it has to be treated quite differently then polished or varnished wood. This was one of the things that I helped Sophie and Flick with. The oldest part of Chartwell is the study and Churchill’s bedroom, both of which date back to medieval times. To this end it is decorated with darkened pine. The stair case that leads down from the study to the dining room is a great example of natural pine. So that it doesn’t splinter or  wear to quickly, twice a year a mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water are used to scrub the tread of the stairs as well as the top of the pine banister. After a short period of time clean warm water is scrubbed onto to reduce any stickiness. This mixture solidifies so that the stairs are non slippery as well as protected from the thousands of feet that climb up and down them over the year.

The banister, once the mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water is applied is then waxed with Harrell’s wax, giving a little more grip for the visitors, staff and volunteers.

I also got to help them with the deep clean of Churchill’s bedroom, which is not normally on display. It is a small room, simply furnished  as well as with photographs of his family and his favorite books. It also has an en suite bathroom with a sunken bath so that he could better enjoy the view.

All in all, it was a really interesting day and I learnt quite a bit about Churchill and his lifestyle, as well as more about deep cleaning. I also got to meet a couple of Chartwell’s cats including Jock – Churchill left quite specific instructions about there always being a Jock the Cat at Chartwell, including what he should look like!

Jock

Jock

 

 

 


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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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Black and Silver…

The Tarnished Silver Coffee Pot

The Tarnished Silver Coffee Pot

Silver is one of those metals that tends to tarnish very easily, especially if it exposed to the air or if people are handling it. As both of these things are hard to prevent, silver objects start to develop blackish patches and generally do not look as nice as they can.

We have a silver coffee pot that sits on a tray outside the Dining room. We moved it into the kitchen for Christmas and realized that, in better lighting, it was in need of a clean.

Silver Dip

Silver Dip

We are careful about using chemicals to clean objects because, more often than not, chemicals tend to take off layers of material. We dust items regularly, using pony hair and hogs hair brushes and sometimes specially designated cloths. But the coffee pot had tarnished beyond that point (or at least the point where it would take several hours to clean one small area).

Cleaning the Coffee Pot

Cleaning the Coffee Pot

We use a product called Silver Dip to clean silver objects. It works by removing a single layer of silver (along with all of the tarnish) to reveal the clean silver underneath.

Using a  small piece of cotton wool dipped in silver dip, I rubbed a small area of the coffee pot gently and in a circular movement until all the tarnish had gone. Then using another piece of cotton wool, but dipped in water, I rubbed the same area in a circular motion to remove any left over silver dip. If silver dip is left on and not cleaned off it can go through several layers of silver and ruin the object. Any excess water is removed by dabbing tissue paper on it. This is then repeated until the

Shiny and Clean

Shiny and Clean

whole of the object is clean. To get into the small nooks and crannies along the lip and the handle, I used a cotton wool bud, repeating the above. The pot was then buffed to bring out the shine.