Standen

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


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Picture Rehang in the Drawing Room

The majority of our paintings downstairs (with notable exceptions!) come from our first custodians, Arthur and Helen Grogan. They enabled the Trust to take on Standen in 1972 by providing an endowment and becoming tenants of the house. They were avid collectors of Arts & Crafts objects and also of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art.

Certain paintings – like Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – we know were the Beales had them so we like to keep them there. Our collection of New English Art Club paintings were collected by Helen and Arthur, so are a bit more flexible.

Not all of our paintings are easily visible to our visitors, particularly those on the far side of the Drawing Room (although you can see them on the NT’s collection website here), so we decided to move a couple of our favourites by James Charles nearer to the visitor route.

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Ben the house manager and the handlers checking the position of one of the relocated paintings.

We had the advice of our new curator, Jane Eade, who works across several properties in the region and has previously worked at the National Portrait Gallery, and the help of two trained art handlers who are very experienced in moving and hanging paintings.

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Our art handlers measuring out some new picture chain for rehanging one of the paintings.

After trying two paintings in different locations  we decided where we’d like them to go – and here they are! We took into account the size of the paintings and their frames and the spaces we thought they might go into, but we also experimented to see what looked best.

We really think they brighten up this end of the room – what do you think?

 

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Discovering more about the Beale family

Eileen has been a room guide with us for 12 years. She volunteered a few years ago to help transcribe a large set of photocopied letters dating from the First World War. Not only did she transcribe many of the letters, she also checked them for consistency and made sure that the formatting was the same throughout – which was no small task! Because of her experience with this she plays a key role in our archive group.

 

A couple of years ago I joined Standen’s archive group.  I have thoroughly enjoyed gaining an insight into the life of the Beale family.

I have faced the challenge of deciphering and transcribing a large number of hand‑written letters from about 100 years ago, recently donated by a descendant of the family.  I have learned a lot about the social history of the era, as well as about everyday life at Standen.

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A historic photo of Standen, similar to those in the recent archive donation.

Other tasks that have given me great satisfaction have been examining, discussing, and cataloguing all sorts of objects, documents, and some beautiful family photos, some from as early as the 1880s, many of which were taken by family members who did their own developing and printing.  It is satisfying to accurately record details of each item, to provide a resource for the future.

To give just a few examples, the documents include things such as:

  • Mrs Beale’s detailed list of catering preparations for a ball held at their London home in the 1890s (“8 dozen lemons – not enough” she wrote)
  • a note of how much Mrs Beale spent on presents – e.g. 24s/6d on underwear as a gift for a granddaughter
  • a letter describing how Dorothy Brown (née Beale) and her family cycled from their home in Caterham to Standen, in the middle of winter, carrying a violin on a bike.

Qualities that shine through are the Beales’ caring attitude and public-spiritedness, their resilience, and their sense of humour.

Working on the archives has given me a greater understanding of the family, and given a glimpse into the spirit of Standen.

Time Passing

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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: 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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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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Filtering Light

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to GreenLight is one of the most damaging factors in conservation. Light damage is quite easy to spot as causes quite dramatic fading or bleaching but for other objects it can be even more damaging. For textiles like cushions and wall hangings light causes fibers to break down and eventually tear. For organic materials, like paper and animal based glues, they become brittle whilst vanishes and oils harden and flake.

Light falls across a spectrum and different ends cause different problems, such as Ultra Violet (UV), visible (which is the only part of the light spectrum that humans can see) and infrared radiation (which we feel as heat). The most damaging part of the light spectrum for historic collections is UV.

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The UV Film ready to go

Ideally UV levels should be at zero but it is impossible to prevent UV from reaching collections as it is present in both natural light and light bulbs. Fortunately the light bulbs here in the house do not emit too much UV but the windows and doors present another problem.

In order to prevent as much damage as we can, we follow a strict light plan by limiting the number of hours the blinds and shutters are open. we also use UV filters on all of the windows and doors.

UV filters are made up of a polyester film that absorbs and reflect UV. However it is not perfect and does let in some UV. UV film lasts between 10 – 12 years during which point air bubbles and cracks start to appear. We have recently had our filters replaced which was very interesting to watch.

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The UV Film being applied to the Half Landing Windows

Firstly the old film had to be removed which is rather simple – it is literally pulled off the windows and then any residue left on the glass is scraped off with a razor blade. The glass is then washed. The new film is then stuck on using water as its adhesive. it sounds very simple but the new film has to be tested before being applied to ensure it is up to the job and then it has to be cut to fit the pane of glass exactly. You can imagine in certain places here, like the windows on the Half landing, taking a long time!

 


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Object of the Month: February 2015 – The Grand Piano

When Standen was given to the National Trust, members of the family were invited to take a memento and one descendant took the Grand Piano that was in the Alcove in the Hall. It has recently been returned too us through a generous donation.

The Grand Piano back in the Hall

The Grand Piano back in the Hall

The piano  was made by Broadwood in June 1898 and was delivered to the Beales’ on the 14th November 1898. The porters’ book entry for its delivery reads:

“Mrs. James S. Beale, 32 Holland Park W

A no. 4 Drawing Room cross-strung Gd Pf Rosewood a to c no. 45059

175 guineas for £156 net delivered to ditto.

Tune 6 months free then 4 @ 21/-

& moving a Collard Gd Pf in the house”

32 Holland Park was the Beales’ London address, where they lived until they moved to Standen permanently in 1905.

The Piano in the Hall in the early 1900s

The Piano in the Hall in the early 1900s

Broadwood & Sons was created in 1808 but has a history dating back to the early 1700s. At its peak, they were making 2500 pianos a year. Broadwood & Sons gained further recognition when Chopin used one on his first visit to London and soon other well-known people, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  were buying them.

Broadwood & Sons still exists today and regularly tune the pianos here.