Standen

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


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Freezing them out: how we deal with pests…

Here we have a blog by our newest conservation assistant Rachel. She’s previously worked at Scotney Castle and has been covering a role here at Standen since July. It’s hard to believe she’s only been here since then as she’s a great part of the team!

With only 3 months left as a Conservation Assistant at Standen, it’s pretty shameful that I haven’t contributed to the blog but my excuse is that it’s been a busy 6 months.

To prove this, I thought I’d explain one of the tasks that I have done to assist the House Team in order to protect Standen’s collection. I’ve chosen one that I’d never done before this week because I enjoyed it and think it’s pretty interesting: freezing objects to destroy insect pests.

A few weeks ago, Kay, Standen’s Facilities Assistant, and I were asked to inspect and clean the display cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry and its contents. The cabinet is rarely opened so you might think it would be unnecessary to clean inside. However, although the doors are kept shut, they are not air tight so a bit of dust had got in but more significantly so had a certain kind of pest – carpet beetle and their larvae, woolly bears.

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The Butler’s Pantry cupboards (NT/Rachel Finch)

Woolly bears sound cute but they’re actually the larvae stage of carpet beetles and eat keratin found in natural fibres so are a real threat to our collection, especially textiles, at Standen. The larvae shed old skins as they grow and it is usually these, along with the damage they cause, that indicate an infestation.

Have a look at them here

During our survey of the cabinet, Kay and I found enough woolly bear cases (plus one fully grown carpet beetle) to require action beyond a thorough vacuum.

Carpet beetles cannot survive below a certain temperature so an effective method of killing both the larvae and adult beetle is to freeze the items on which they have been found. The length of time it is recommended to freeze objects depends on the temperature of the freezer: 3 days at -30, or 14 days at -18 then 48 hours to defrost followed by another 14 days exposure. We use the latter method at Standen due to the temperature of our freezer.

This week, Fiona and I prepared the objects for freezing treatment. Carpet beetles target textiles in particular and although we had not found evidence of the pests on all of the textile items in the cabinet, we decided to freeze them all to be on the safe side.

To freeze the items we removed them from the display and wrapped them in acid free tissue followed by polythene.  It was important at this stage to remove as much air as possible from the packages before sealing them with tape to prevent any water ingress which could lead to dye leakage. For awkwardly shaped items a hoover can be used to suck the air out; we used this method for the chauffeur’s hat.

Once the items were all sealed in polythene with their identifying details and the date clearly marked on the outside, we took them to the chest freezer in the Stable Yard to be frozen.

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Fiona in the chest freezer (NT/Rachel Finch)

We placed the smaller items in hanging trays and raised the rest above the bottom of the freezer to allow air circulation.

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Everything packed and ready to be frozen (NT/Rachel Finch)

At the end of 2 weeks we will carefully remove the items and allow them to defrost for 48 hours before refreezing them for a further 2 weeks.  After this we will un-wrap them and hopefully find nothing, meaning they were pest free when they were placed in the freezer, or some dead woolly bears/carpet beetles.

In the mean time we will remove the remaining items from the display case and spray it with a water-based insecticide to kill off any insect pests left inside.

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How we use blue fabric to monitor light

You might have seen these around the house. They’re called blue wool dosimeters and we use them for keeping an eye on how much light exposure the house gets over a year. In February we have to collect them in and send them off to be analysed.

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A blue wool dosimeter in situ in the north bedroom (NT/Victoria Witty)

They are rather low tech, but very clever. They are made of picture mount and pieces of specially dyed (blue!) wool, the latter which is known to fade at a certain rate when exposed to light.

We use them to see how much light falls on certain objects or rooms over a whole year. As a registered museum we need to try to keep to museum standards of light exposure to our collection:

  • highly light sensitive rooms/objects = 150,000 lux hours
  • moderately sensitive rooms/objects = 600,000 lux hours

Blue wool dosimeters allow us to see how much cumulative light the house and collection has been exposed to over the year and if we need to adjust how we show the house.

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Results of the blue wool dosimeters from around the house 2015-6 (NT/VW)

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The back of a blue wool dosimeter – important information for when they are analysed (NT/VW)

You can see below that the aperture is smaller than the piece of fabric so when they are analysed there is something to compare the faded area against. We need to make sure that the dosimeters aren’t moved to make sure they give the most accurate information they can.

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This is what it looks like after a whole year out, just before we send it off to be analysed (NT/VW)

Sometimes, as they are wool, they get munched by pests – wool is a favourite food of carpet beetles and their larvae, woolly bears…

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We try not to let this happen! (NT/VW)


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What goes on in January?

The house opens differently in January for lots of reasons! We’re not as busy as usual so we take the opportunity to open in other ways.

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Opening up in the morning (NT/Victoria Witty)

We run special Behind Closed Doors Tours which go into not usually seen parts of the house. You get to go down to the cellar and up to the water tower and we have some extra time in the main part of the house to get some of the deep clean done in awkward areas.

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At work in the Billiard Room (NT/Victoria Witty)

We also use January opening to get any building or decorating work done – this year we had the painters in to decorate the Morning Room Corridor.

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Painters in the morning room corridor (NT/Victoria Witty)

We use special water based paint and the colour is mixed specially for us by our specialist decorators. The colour comes from investigations into original paint colours

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Samples of paint mixed specially for us to match the paint colours in the house (NT/Victoria Witty)

This year, following the success of our Winter Tree and exhibition round the house we also have a special Kaffe Fassett exhibition. It’s in the house in our exhibition rooms, open from 12 to 2.30pm (last entry at 2pm).

Come along and see what we are up to!

 


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Christmas 2016

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The cottage

We’re well into Christmas at Standen, so if you haven’t already been to visit us here are a few photos to whet your appetite!

Don’t forget we have some wonderful tapestries and knitting by Kaffe Fassett around the house, and he also designed our Winter Tree in the courtyard.

You can also see we’ve been yarnbombing round the place – all crocheted by our volunteers.

And finally, just because it is Christmas doesn’t mean we are letting our standards drop…

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Sarah dusting the turkey

 


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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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Focus on – the staircase hall

I asked one of my Wednesday room guides if she had a favourite object I could talk about and she suggested that I talk about our beautiful Webb staircase.

I thought it would be interesting to expand this and start a new series where we have a look at different rooms in the house starting with, of course, the staircase hall.

The staircase hall is set back from the the main entrance of the house, away from the rooms that guests, unless they were staying overnight, would be invited into.

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Webb’s plan showing the staircase hall

Its main feature is the staircase with the impressive fumed oak balustrade. Fumed oak is oak that has been smoked, a bit like a kipper, which brings out the grain of the wood.

The flat banisters up the stairs are a typical Webb detail, which look like a splat – one of my favourite words –  the back of a Windsor chair.

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A view of the staircase hall from the half landing

The wallpaper, ‘Batchelor’s Button’, which was designed by William Morris in 1892, was put up when Mrs Beale first decorated in the 1890s. It was repaired in 1906 and varnished to protect it from grandchildren’s wayward elbows and sticky fingers and has been there ever since.

The stair carpet is a copy we had specially made in 2001 of the Axminster carpet supplied to the Beales by Morris & Co. in 1906 when the original was too worn out to be safe any more.

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The light in the hall

The central light fitting is one of our original W.A.S. Benson light fittings, similar to but larger than the ones in the hall. It’s wrought iron with an opaque glass shade made by Powell & Co. Glass Manufacturers, London.

My favourite thing in the staircase hall is the Webb designed table at the bottom. It has got seven legs and is a lovely oval shape, not circular as it might at first appear.

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The Webb seven legged table

The most striking picture in the staircase hall is the massive replica of a cartoon by Ford Maddox Brown of the Manchester city hall murals. It shows the introduction of Christianity to the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria (c.586 – 632/33), which included Manchester, through the baptism of King Edwin.

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The Baptism of King Edwin

There are also the two portraits of Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – make sure you stop to say hello next time you visit!

Are there any rooms you’d like to know a bit more about? Please let us know in the comments or on our Facebook or Twitter.

 

 


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Object of the Month – June: Voysey Linen Press

Linen Press designed by C.F.A Vosey

Linen Press designed by C.F.A Vosey

This linen press in the North Spare Dressing Room was designed by C.F.A Voysey, a renowned architect and furniture designer during the Arts and Crafts period.

A linen press is similar to what we know as a linen or laundry cupboard. They were built to hold sheets, napkins, clothing and other textiles.

Voysey was not only a furniture designer but also an architect and wallpaper designer. He started his own architect practise in 1881 and used furniture and wallpaper design to supplement his income.

One of the common features used to identify Voysey’s work is a simplistic design with clean horizontal and vertical lines. He strongly believe in letting the high quality materials speak for themselves and preferred using unfinished and unpolished materials, especially wood.

Simplicity, sincerity, repose, directness and frankness are moral qualities as essential to good architecture as to good men”. (C.F.A Voysey)