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

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Focus on – the morning room

The morning room is one of my favourite rooms. It faces south and east so naturally gets the morning sun. It was the ideal place for the ladies of the family to get out of the way of the servants so they can clean and not be disturbed.

Bright and sunny can cause us a few problems though – we have lots of things in the room which are sensitive to light. We’ve recently put new blinds in that are a mesh kind of fabric that cuts out a lot of the light but also can be seen through to outside.

It’s the only room in the house that has fabric hangings on the walls in this way – a bit like medieval houses had tapestries on their walls. The hangings up at the moment are reprints by Morris & Co. from about the 1970s, but we have a small scrap leftover from the originals that has been made into a cushion.

Morris and Co adjustable chair in the Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The original colours and scale of the Daffodil fabric hangings in the morning room

We get asked a lot what is underneath them – it’s just plaster and lining paper! If you visited last year you might have seen it as we’d taken down the hangings to allow the wall to dry out as we’d had a leaky downpipe outside.

We have also fairly recently replaced the sacrificial carpet on the floor – the old one had been down for a very long time and was developing some fairly extensive holes from all the feet walking on it.

The Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The morning room with its old carpet

We wanted to ensure that the replacement carpet was similar to that which the Beales had in the room, rather than just any old carpet. Luckily we had a volunteer who was working with our family archives for her PhD and she, alongside our curator, were able to identify the style of carpet the Beales had. If you look in the photo below you can see the geometric border of the carpet.


This photo of two Beales in the morning room was very helpful indeed

Our curator was then able to go to carpet suppliers and specify exactly what we were looking for.

After we got the carpet we realised that we’d not only got a carpet very similar to the Beales’ original, but, looking at their receipt, had also managed to buy it from the very same place!

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Object of the Month: November: Brass ‘Secessionist’ Mirror

sta0511This mirror was made in  Vienna, Austria around 1900. It is made in the Art Nouveau style, a style favoured by Charles Rennie Macintosh and Gustav Klimt.

 Secessionism refers to a movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where groups of modernist artists split from established schools and thoughts of Art. This first started in Paris and Munich, before moving onto Vienna, Berlin and finally,  Cologne. The best known ‘Secessionist’ movement happened in Vienna and led to the birth of Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau is inspired by natural forms and structures, like plants, flowers and curved lines. Art Nouveau grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement (although it formed alongside the latter half of this movement) and the designs of William Morris.

Joseph Hoffman, an artist of the Vienna Secessionists, broke away from the Art Nouveau movement to form the Wiener Werkstätte, the Austrian version of the Arts and Craft Movement.


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Work on Wallpaper

Larkspur wallpaper damage

Damage to the wallpaper in the Larkspur Bedroom (before conservation work)

At the start of this year, I wrote about how strong driving winds and rains had caused old damp patches and leaks to reappear in some of the south facing rooms in the house.

In the Larkspur Bedroom and the South Spare exhibition room, the damage was particularly bad. Both rooms have a history of leaks and damp, and this time they had developed leaks above the fireplaces. The water ingress had badly stained the Morris & Co. wallpaper, and – despite the use of fans and a dehumidifier to circulate the air and stablise the humidity levels – the damp conditions led to mould forming directly on the paper.

The water had come in under the flashing around the chimney, so the first thing we did was to renew the flashing and pointing in this area. Then it was the turn of the wallpaper; and so a conservator recently came and worked on the affected areas.

South Spare wallpaper damage

Staining on the wallpaper in the South Spare exhibition room (before conservation work)

He was able to remove much of the unsightly mould from the Larkspur wallpaper. The mould was very noticeable, and had begun to detract from the charm of this room. Although the wallpaper is still stained, it looks much better. Once the area has thoroughly dried out, the conservator will be able to come back to carry out work to remove the staining.

In the South Spare exhibition room, the wallpaper was carefully removed by the conservator, who has taken it away to begin a treatment to wash out the staining. It is quite a long process – not only does the delicate work on the wallpaper need to be carried out, but we also need to wait for the wall itself to dry out properly before rehanging the paper. This can take months, so it’s likely that the wallpaper will be back at Standen early next year.

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Object in Focus: William De Morgan bowl

Standen is full of all sorts of ceramics, which can make it difficult to single out one piece as a favourite…

So we decided to be cruel and leave the difficult decisions to our Room Guides! We asked them which was their favourite ceramic in the house, and there were lots of great choices (we’ll definitely feature more volunteer favourites in this slot in the future), however there was a clear winner…

…the ceramic with the most votes was:

William De Morgan bowl (Drawing Room)

De Morgan bowl

William De Morgan bowl, on display in the Drawing Room

The bowl is a beautiful piece by the potter and designer William Frend De Morgan (1839-1917). De Morgan was one of the leading designers of the Arts & Crafts movement, and was also a close friend and collaborator of William Morris. De Morgan designed many pieces for Morris’ company, Morris & Co., channeling his talents into not only ceramics, but also stained glass and furniture design.

De Morgan tile

A Middle Eastern-inspired tile by De Morgan.
Part of the collection at Wightwick Manor, a National Trust Arts & Crafts house in the West Midlands

Like his fellow Arts & Crafts advocates, De Morgan was inspired by Medieval imagery, but he was also influenced by Middle Eastern designs – particularly those from Persia. The inspiration for the motifs and colours of this bowl is probably drawn from Persian designs – the use of yellows, pinks, blues and purples was especially common in Persian ceramics (often also referred to as Iznik ceramics).

The overall design of the bowl is striking, and it appears almost contemporary – one of our volunteers remarked that it looked ‘almost modern’, and wouldn’t look out of place in a present-day home.

The intricate decoration of De Morgan’s designs was carried out by a very skilled group of decorators. Many De Morgan pieces were signed by their decorators, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the manufacturing process. This particular bowl is signed ‘J.H’, which we know was a decorator by the name of J. Hershey.

De Morgan bowl underside

Underside of the De Morgan bowl, showing the decorator’s signature: ‘J.H’, the initials of the decorator J. Hershey

Standen has many De Morgan pieces throughout the house, and the variety in designs illustrate his talents. In the Drawing Room you can see not only Middle Eastern inspired pieces, but also many items of lustreware – ceramics finished with an iridescent metallic glaze, a technique which De Morgan is credited with reviving.

Perhaps one of the reasons the bowl is such a favourite with our volunteers is its connections to the Beale family. It was given to Mr and Mrs Beale for their silver wedding anniversary in April 1895 by their children. It is the only piece of De Morgan the Beales owned, but was the inspiration for Arthur and Helen Grogan, the first National Trust custodians of Standen, to buy more of the De Morgan ceramics which you can see around the house today.