Standen

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

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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Washing Wallpaper…

Willow Bough wallpaper, William Morris 1887

Willow Bough wallpaper, William Morris 1887

Wallpaper is one those items in a house that seems replaceable; a product of mass production that can be changed to suit your furniture or your mood. However, in the past, wallpaper was an incredibly rare thing and actually very valuable.

Wallpapers started out as a product that the slightly less elite (though still very wealthy) could use in place of tapestries. In fact they were hung like tapestries too – as a large sheet of paper. Now this is around the 16th century so they were hand printed and hand painted. Now as you can imagine, these wallpaper hangings did not last very long and as such not many still survive today – the earliest surviving piece dates to 1509 and is only a very small piece.

Silk Wallpaper found at Polesden Lacey

Silk Wallpaper found at Polesden Lacey

Fast forward to Henry VII and his decision to split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, this caused a huge falling out between trading companies in Europe (especially between France and England) and as the aristocrats no longer had access to large Flemish tapestries that were oh so fashionable and popular so they turned to wallpaper instead.

Hand painted Chinese wallpaper made around 1780

Hand painted Chinese wallpaper made around 1780

By the mid 18th century, England was the leading wallpaper manufacturer in Europe and started to make more affordable designs aimed at the middle classes. As they were more affordable and more available, manufacturers had to make certain wallpapers that would still appeal to the aristocrats and the mega rich so they started experimenting with wallpapers that acted like materials, like leather, silk and velvet. the most popular turned out to be flocked wallpaper, where a designed was pressed onto paper and then pieces of wool or silk were blown across it and they only stuck to the printed design. Oriental designs were also becoming increasingly popular so plain wallpapers were shipped off to the China and Japan, whereupon they were hand painted with oriental designs and images of everyday life.

Along came the 19th century and the development of steam-powered printing presses, this meant that wallpaper became available to everyone, not just the rich and aristocracy. It also heralded an age of more scenic wallpapers with French influences.

By the time of the 20th century, wallpaper had established itself as one of the most popular items in a house but unfortunately its reign had to come to an end and the idea of wallpaper gave way to pain painted walls towards the late 1900s.

Cleaning Wallpapers:

So over the last few hundred years that wallpaper has been around, there have been suggested many different ways of keeping it clean.

Play-Doh - known as Kutol - originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner

Play-Doh – known as Kutol – originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner

As most wallpapers were regarded as insignificant, there was little bother in cleaning them. However,  it where finer wallpapers are involved that it gets interesting. For these wallpapers, light levels were kept to a minimum and some were even varnished to protect them. Some maids dusted the wallpapers whilst others used bread dough to help get rid if dirt. unfortunately bread dough leaves behind traces that insects and molds love or they became greasy and streaky. Play-doh, the beloved children’s toy, was originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s. However, when a classroom of children started using it to make models, the marketing changed and it became a children’s toy.

Nowadays with historic wallpapers we use methods that involve less chemical and avoid taking the wallpaper off the wall unless strictly necessary.

Why we clean wallpaper:

We clean wallpaper in order to preserve it for longer. If we left it dusty or with stains a) it does not look very nice and b) often dirt and stains hide a bigger problem.

Cleaning wallpaper at Standen:

The water stain behind the wallpaper in the South Spare

The water stain behind the wallpaper in the South Spare

We had a similar case with the wallpaper in the South Spare bedroom. With all the rains last spring, one of the chimneys sprung a leak and seeped down through the house. The wallpaper got wet and then later dried out leaving a brown water mark. If we had left the leak the water would eventually have flooded the room and done a lot more damage. By catching it at the water mark stage we managed to repair the leak and re-point the chimney to ensure it is watertight. However with that fixed, the wallpaper needed to be inspected and cleaned to check for any further damage – damp walls tend to grow mold and attract silverfish who eat away layers of paper.  The wallpaper was dampened until the adhesive gave way and the wallpaper sheet was gently peeled away – it takes a lot of skill to keep damp wallpaper in one sheet. It was then wet cleaned – a sponge slightly dampened with a mild soap and water is applied gently to the wallpaper removing the water stains.

Left: Dirty Right: Cleaned

Left: Dirty Right: Cleaned

When the chimney sprung a leak, it also damaged some of the paper in the Larkspur bedroom. This had already been wet cleaned once (which can only be done once in its lifetime) so  historic larkspur wallpaper was pasted over the top – so seamlessly it is difficult to spot which is the original.

Our Wallpaper Conservator cleaning the Trellis wallpaper in the Dog Leg Corridor

Our Wallpaper Conservator cleaning the Trellis wallpaper in the Dog Leg Corridor

while our wallpaper conservator was here we thought it wise to ask him to clean the trellis wallpaper in the dog leg corridor. Being trapped in a small space created by a false ceiling caused dust and dirt to build up. A smoke sponge, was used to clean this wallpaper, gently erasing away any buildups of dirt and marks.

 


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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 Happy (if rather damp) New Year!

Happy New Year!

After a wet and blustery end to 2013 and start to 2014, we’ve been assessing the storm damage across the estate. There’s been some serious damage in the garden, and although we have been a little more fortunate in the house, some rooms were affected by the high winds and driving rain.

Staff living on site had been able to check the house over the Christmas break for immediate problems, but it was not until we all arrived back at the start of this week, and were able to check rooms in detail that we were able to establish what damage had been caused.

Silverfish damage to Larkspur wallpaper

Silverfish have eaten the wallpaper down to the plaster in some places

Some rooms in the house have a history of leaks and damp patches, and these were made worse by the recent weather. The Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room in particular have suffered in the recent weather – not only have old damp patches reappeared, but the relative humidity in the room rose to worrying levels; resulting in mould patches and damage to the Morris & Co. Larkspur wallpaper. We set up a dehumidifier, and fans to circulate the air, which should help bring down the RH to a safer level in time for opening in mid-February.

While inspecting the dressing room, we also found that silverfish had caused significant damage to the wallpaper; something that I mentioned in a previous post about caring for wallpaper. It’s likely that the high humidity levels in this room contributed to the silverfish infestation; however the insects had not made much of an appearance in the traps we use to monitor them. Because of the risks to the wallpaper in both the bedroom and dressing room, we’ll be starting wallpaper monitoring as a priority.

Christmas clean up

The fallen pine needles outline where the Christmas tree in the porch stood

Post-Christmas, we also needed to take down the wonderful decorations our band of volunteers had installed. We had so many compliments from visitors about the decorations, so full credit has to go to the team of ladies that spent hours collecting, making and installing the decorations. It was a much messier task to take down the Christmas trees than it was to put them up – real trees are great, but pine needles get everywhere!

Finally, this week we’ve also been continuing with our annual deep clean. This is done on a rolling basis throughout the year, and this week was the turn of the North Bedroom and the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. This really enables us to check the Larkspur in particular for any further problems it might have. As the room is mainly roped off to visitors to protect the historic carpet, this can provide an undisturbed environment for unwanted problems – from mould to carpet beetle. As I speak, members of the house team are checking the room in minute detail, so fingers crossed they don’t find any other serious problems.

Hannah - deep clean

Hannah in the process of giving the North Bedroom its deep clean