Standen

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


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From the search terms – William Morris Wallpaper

It seemed like a fun idea to have a look at the search terms through which people come to our house blog. Today’s was what William Morris is famous for – his wallpaper.

And, as you probably know, we at Standen are also known for having lots of examples of Morris & Co wallpapers. Interestingly, some of the most famous Morris & Co. papers weren’t designed by Morris at all, even though they tend to get called William Morris designs.

Here is an idiosyncratic and completely biased round up of some of my favourites.

Fruit (sometimes known as Pomegranate)

This is in the Billiard Room alcove, which was created from a corridor which originally led from the Hall to the Gentlemen’s Lavatories. It has lemons, olive branches and pomegranates in it. Produced in 1864, it is one of Morris’s earliest and most popular designs.

The wallpaper designs were carved onto pearwood blocks to print by hand – each colour needing a different block. Sanderson now own many of the Morris printing blocks.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

It’s listed as Pomegranate on our collections website

Trellis

The first paper William Morris designed – except he couldn’t manage the birds so Philip Webb, the architect of Standen, stepped in to draw them. Morris was so annoyed by his inability to draw the birds he practiced and practiced until he could.

My own favourite story about this is from May Morris, William’s youngest daughter. She remembered having Trellis on her bedroom walls as a child, and being thoroughly frightened by one of the birds who looked at her with a gimlet eye.

We have Trellis in a number of places in the house, but perhaps the most interesting is in the Morning Room and Dog Leg Corridors – there are three different types of paper here; the original handblock printed, 1970s roller printed and 2015 digital printed.

Wallpaper_Twitter.jpg

He does look pretty sinister if you ask me

Mallow

This paper is unusual because it was designed by a woman, Kate Faulkner. It used to hang in the Croxley bedroom where the green version of Poppy is now.

We  also uncovered a patch of it on the back stairs and, with the generous assistance of Morris & Co., are going to reinstate the paper up to the bottom of the water tower stairs. Find out more about the work here.

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The remains of Mallow on the back stairs

Kate Faulkner was sister of Charles Faulkner, one of the original members of “The Firm” as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was referred to by the partners. She was employed as an artist and designer and designed other wallpapers, tiles and pottery. She also decorated other things like a piano in gold and silver gesso for the shipping magnate Mr. A. Ionides, neighbour of the Beales in Holland Park.

Golden Lily

A really famous William Morris pattern, but actually designed by J.H. Dearle, Morris & Co.’s chief designer from the 1890s.

Interestingly Dearle started as a shop assistant and, after Morris recognised his ability as a draftsman, went on to become a design apprentice.He eventually became Art Director after Morris’s death in 1896. You can see it on the Morning Room sofa – lots of visitors remember it from Sanderson’s 1970s reprints!

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

Loose covers on the Morning Room settee

Which of our papers is your favourite?

 

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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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)

 

 

 

 

 


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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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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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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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Re-interpreting the servants’ wing

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

If you’ve visited Standen in the last few months, you may have noticed one or two changes as you came to the end of your journey around the house. We’ve been looking at and refreshing the way we present the servants’ areas of the house to give these areas a bit more context. One of the areas we have been concentrating on is the Dog Leg Corridor (so-called because of the bend in the corridor, which would apparently stop cooking smells reaching the family part of the house). We started work on this area a few years back; removing a doorway and a false ceiling that were later additions. This was a lengthy process that involved fire and safety considerations and listed buildings consent, among other things.

The removal of the false ceiling revealed an area of William Morris Trellis wallpaper; showing that this area was once as heavily decorated as the Morning Room Corridor, which it leads on from.

A new, suspended ceiling was recently fitted to hide wires and other electrical fittings. The fact it is suspended means that further damage to the surviving Trellis wallpaper is avoided. We also added glass coolie shades to the light fittings, which are in keeping with the light fittings in the rest of the service wing.

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

Although these works made the Dog Leg Corridor more historically accurate, we felt that it was still a little anonymous: walking along, one didn’t necessarily get the feeling that you were heading away from the family part of the house, towards the ‘working’ part of the house. An evolving ideas process led us to decide upon something a little different when it came to interpreting this area – the corridor was almost a blank slate, and so we were able to do something bold and eye catching.

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

We wanted to highlight that this corridor was a transitional space from family life to servant life. Inspired by a quote from the Beale family archives, an anamorphic design was created: different parts of the design were painted on different areas of the corridor; coming together to create a whole when viewed from the start of the corridor. The colour and rosette around the quote are inspired by the roses in the Morris Trellis wallpaper, again underlining the transition from the richly decorated family quarters to the more austere service areas.

There has been a really positive response from visitors towards the anamorphic design – just the other day, I overheard a visitor comment that it was clever and thought provoking. The re-display of the Dog Leg and service wing is a long-term project, so do keep an eye out for more changes and improvements in the future.


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Redecorating the Drawing Room

The Drawing Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The Drawing Room as it usually looks

For the last couple of days, the house team have mainly been concentrating on emptying the Drawing Room of its contents, as the room is being redecorated next week. The paintwork is looking a little old and tired, and a new coat of paint should really brighten the room up. Of course, this does mean that there was the ‘small’ matter of where the room’s contents were going to be temporarily stored!

Standen isn’t a large house, and aside from the permanent storage spaces that are already in use, we don’t have much in the way of additional storage space for our collection. When it came to temporary storage for the Drawing Room collection, we needed to utilise other showrooms – consequently we ended up with cushions on the billiard table, and an array of ceramics safely stored on the Dining Room table…a slightly odd sight! Although there were lots of objects to be moved, members from the house team – along some of our conservation volunteers – were on hand to help, and the move went a lot more smoothly and quickly than anticipated.

Drawing Room carpet

Checking and vacuuming the Drawing Room carpet and underlay

Clearing the Drawing Room of its contents was a good opportunity to properly inspect the room and its contents – in particular, the wallpaper and carpet. The wallpaper is a William Morris design called Sunflower, and looking at it closely, we could see that there was silverfish damage in places, although the damage didn’t seem to be quite as bad as we found in the Larkspur Dressing Room last week. The carpet – also a Morris design – is huge, and almost fills the room. We were concerned that it may have fresh damage in places from carpet beetle, but because of its size, it was impossible to check the carpet thoroughly until we were able to completely empty the room – luckily, we could find no traces of new damage.

The Drawing Room is a favourite of mine – it’s such a restful room, with so many wonderful features – and with the room empty, you could really appreciate the space itself. The craftsmanship that had gone into creating its outstanding features, such as the fireplace surround and the fretwork around the windows, was particularly apparent. The room looked so different, and we all agreed that it would make a fantastic setting for a dance or a party!

Drawing Room

Almost ready for the decorators!

This is the first experience I’ve had of emptying a room, and it was interesting for me to see the logistics of safely moving heavy items of furniture and countless precious objects – and organising them so that they kept the order they were displayed in! Fragile objects are removed bit by bit, which can often seem labour-intensive (a particularly fragile teapot lid was removed from the pot itself, and carried separately), but it really is the best way to ensure existing repairs or damage are not weakened. The heaviest and largest items of furniture – such as the huge, George Jack-designed display cabinet and the Morris carpet – will remain, covered in dust sheets in the centre of room, with the decorators working around them.


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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