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

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Front of House

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One of our very welcoming volunteers on duty on the Porch

One of the most important jobs that we do here as staff, is to ensure that our volunteers are happy and enjoying what they do for us. We do this mostly through front of house duties.

Doing front of house basically means ensuring that the house runs smoothly on a daily basis. This is a role that we split between myself, the Assistant House Steward, House Steward and House Manager.

We start off the day with a briefing. This is to update everyone, staff and volunteers, on things that are happening that day, such as if there are any groups coming or if there is a new exhibition starting. It also means that any information from other departments like the garden team, are passed on to keep everyone updated, such as updates on the Garden Revival project. We also let each volunteer know what room they are guiding in for that shift.

Once  we are open, we will go around the house and see how the room guides are doing – It gives me an excuse for a quick catch up as well. We are also on hand to answer any queries or requests that the room guide feels unable to answer fully or generally lend a hand if it is busy.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

Front of house does bring its own challenges especially with us being open 363 days of the year now. Often I find myself going from room to room covering tea breaks or covering the room whilst the guide goes and does an introductory talk – one of my favorite rooms to cover is the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. However  this does give me the opportunity to connect with our visitors and find out what they like and dislike about the house.

Being front of house is always an interesting way to spend the day. Every day is different, with new questions, challenges and demonstrations. I always find that I learn something new, whether from a visitor, volunteer or member of staff.

Happy New Year

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A Day in 1925…

The Kitchen Gardeners

The Kitchen Gardeners

Last weekend, we had our big Day in the Life day. The house is set up for a weekend in 1925, when Amy, the eldest daughter of the Beales, is coming to visit along with her husband and three of her children. Hence why as you go around you might spot a bag that has not quite been unpacked, the table is laid for dinner and then when you go upstairs, Amy is having breakfast in bed and Maggie is writing her diary before coming downstairs.

All of this has been gearing up to last Saturday where we took the Day in the Life story to the extreme! It was especially  exciting and fun to share the house with the visitors (not that it is not usually)  but this took that feeling to the next level. This was something that united the property as loads of volunteers and staff dressed up and pitched in.

The Cafe Staff

The Cafe Staff

There was loads of activities going on throughout the house with some of our volunteers playing billiards and draughts. We also had napkin folding demonstrations and writing in the Visitors book with pen and ink. We also had some cooking on the range with produce from the Kitchen Garden at Standen, where people could try roasted pumpkin, red cabbage and fresh bread.

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day but not one without its tensions! The main one happened just before we opened – we had filled the bath in the Green Bathroom upstairs and filled it with bubbles so it looked like someone was just about to have a bath. Now the taps are no longer connected so we had to fill it by hand with buckets. The next thing we knew water was coming through the ceiling in the Victorian Gentlemen’s Lavatories! So we had to quickly empty it, again by hand, using buckets!

I was dressed up as  a maid and got the chance to spend the day in the house talking to everyone and partaking in some of the activities. Here is one of me in action:

Gretting Guests as they arrive..

Greeting Guests as they arrive..

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‘I do!’

Thursday this week started out as a fairly ordinary, quiet day. I was running front of house, going about my normal duties, when I was told by a visitor that he’d proposed to his girlfriend in the conservatory – and she’d accepted!


Standen’s conservatory, where two of our visitors got engaged this week

It was a lovely surprise, and it goes to show that when working in an historic house, you have to expect the unexpected.

I’m afraid that I didn’t have to foresight to ask the visitors their names and contact details in order to send them a congratulatory card, so this will have to do – whoever you are, congratulations! And we’re chuffed that you chose Standen for your special moment!

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People Person: front of house duties in an historic house

An aspect of my responsibilities as Conservation & Interpretation Assistant is helping to manage Front of House duties during opening hours.

On a very basic level, this involves being the first point of contact for the volunteers that are on duty, and also being a visible and approachable member of staff for visitors. However, managing Front of House is often more demanding than it sounds!

The day starts with briefing our house volunteers to ensure they are all kept informed, have a chance to express queries or concerns, and that they know which rooms they will be stewarding.

Welcome to Standen!

After the morning’s volunteer briefing: Ruth, one of our Room Guides, gets ready to welcome visitors to Standen

Just before opening, a final check is carried out to make sure everything is ready for visitors, and then at 11 o’clock we throw open the front doors to the first visitors of the day. Throughout the course of the day, I wander through the house, greeting visitors and ensuring that everything is running smoothly.

Front of House duties are really people focused, which I love. It’s the best way to get to know and build up a rapport with our volunteers (though remembering everyone’s names is tricky!), and its great to be able to interact with visitors. I’ve even noticed that different types of people visit Standen on different days: on quiet or rainy days, it’s often people that are familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement or even Standen itself. At weekends, it’s often families that have come for a day out and might not have visited Standen before, so they see everything through fresh eyes.

Cooking on the Range

Cooking on the range: an instance of when Front of House needs to be carefully managed to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum and everything runs smoothly

Sometimes the logistics of managing Front of House can be tricky – especially if we don’t have enough room stewards to cover all of our showrooms. I often find myself dashing from room to room providing tea break cover, or stewarding a room while the Room Guide goes to deliver an introductory talk about the house.

There’s also more unusual instances which can crop up from time to time: we recently had a photo shoot in the conservatory, which meant that it needed to be temporarily roped off to visitors. We had to rethink the layout of the visitor route to ensure it was disrupted as little as possible. Every time that I’m responsible for Front of House, I find that there’s a new challenge – it’s certainly keeping me on my toes!