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Standen: Arts and Crafts style in a Sussex family home

Standen (National Trust) Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

When James and Margaret Beale decided in 1890 that they would like to create a comfortable weekend retreat within easy reach of their London home in Holland Park, they chose renowned architect Philip Webb to build it for them. Webb was already closely aligned with the Arts and Crafts movement and his style very much fitted the Beales’ idea that their house, while extremely spacious and comfortable, should not be ostentatious.

The Beales purchased a farming estate with several properties and beautiful views, near East Grinstead in Sussex, and set about creating an artistic home for themselves and their seven children. Margaret Beale took charge of the interiors, planning and recording each room in detail. The couple moved in artistic circles and Margaret’s choices reflected the influence of the Aesthetic Movement - which embraced the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’ - tempered by a desire for light, airy interiors.

The old Hollybush farmhouse, included in the estate. Photo by the author.

To complement Chinese and Japanese porcelainware and Turkish rugs bought from emporia such as Liberty’s, Margaret chose wallpapers and fabrics from Morris & Co, William Morris’ company in Oxford Street. A representative from the company visited Standen in 1894, before the house was even completed, and arranged for blinds, carpets and floor coverings to be fitted. Wallpapers, fabrics and furniture were to follow with Margaret choosing some of the less elaborate Morris designs in a light colour palette.

‘Trellis’ wallpaper seen behind a scale used to weigh the Beale children each summer. Photo by the author.

Walking round the house, now owned by the National Trust, is a delight for fans of Morris wallpapers, with a combination of original and reproduction papers in the rooms. ‘Trellis’ features in the corridors and makes a perfect backdrop to the passageway to the conservatory with its red clay floor tiles where Margaret grew unusual and exotic plants. Morris took inspiration from his garden at Red House to create the wallpaper design, with Philip Webb drawing the birds.

‘Sunflower’ wallpaper and cushion in ‘Fruit’. Photo by the author.

For the simple but elegant drawing room Webb designed embossed copper wall lights ornamented with Aesthetic sunflowers and Margaret continued the theme, choosing Morris ‘Sunflower’ paper for the walls. The paper was renewed twice, once in 1907 and then again in the 1970s. Its quietly understated colour reflected the low-key refinement of the room.

‘Fruit’ wallpaper used in the Billiard Room. Photo by the author.

‘Fruit’ (also known as ‘Pomegranate’) with its richer tones, complemented the painted panelling of the Billiard Room, a space enjoyed by men, women and children. This enlightened approach demonstrated the progress made since the days of the dark, masculine billiard rooms of the Victorian era.

‘Bachelor’s Button’ wallpaper. Photo by the author.

The wide bright central staircase decorated in ‘Bachelor’s Button’ paper, varnished to withstand heavy wear, leads up to bedrooms decorated in ‘Larkspur’, ‘Powdered’, ‘Willow Bough’ and ‘Marigold’ papers. Every bedroom is embellished by embroidered cushions, mats and fire screens worked by female members of the Beale family.

‘Larkspur’ wallpaper in Amy Beale’s bedroom. Photo by the author.

Standen was home to members of the Beale family for nearly 80 years. When the last surviving owner, Helen Beale, died in 1971 before her offer of the house to the National Trust had been formally agreed, the house was rescued by Arthur and Helen Grogan who leased the house and enriched it further with Morris artefacts and Arts and Crafts pieces. Thanks to Beales’ artistic vision and the Grogan’s careful stewardship, Standen has been preserved for Morris enthusiasts to enjoy in perpetuity.

Lucy Ellis


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