Thursday, 20 April 2017


I am loving being on holiday! Especially when the weather is so agreeable and obliging- days like this are not to be wasted and yesterday The Mother, The Brother and I packed a little picnic (egg and ham wraps) and journeyed off to Standen House & Garden in East Grinstead, West Sussex. We had heard through the grapevine, that some of the work by the very talented designer/maker, Kaffe Fassett was being exhibited there, and as the interior of the house is well known for its use of William Morris designs in its furnishings- it was a combination not to be missed! What we hadn't realised, and was a fabulous bonus, was that they are getting ready for a tulip festival which starts next week, and the gardens are completely covered in the most fantastic display of every kind of tulip imaginable!

Every part of the garden had some kind of tulip border, tulip pot, tulip field or tulip flower bed, which combined with the usual and more permanent flowers, like the wall of Wisteria, made for an exceptional display of colour and design! Chelsea eat your heart out! Apparently around 10,000 bulbs were planted in preparation for this festival, although as most of the flowers seem to have bloomed already- there may be none left by the time the actual festival time rolls around.

The house itself is relatively new and modern in the grand scheme of things, with building work starting in 1891 and finishing three years later. It was commissioned by The Beale family, headed by James Beale who was a highly succesful solicitor from Birmingham, along with his wife and seven children. They moved from Birmingham to London so that James could manage the London office of Beale & Co, a family firm specialising in railway work. The Beales were an interesting family who travelled widely and had a very strong interest in Arts and Sciences, employing the architect Philip Webb who was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, to design and head up the project for a comfortable country home.

According to the National Trust website, 'Standen was designed to look as though it has always been here- almost as if it has 'grown' out of the rock face and is a part of the landscape, however the land that Standen now stands upon was originally made up of three farms: Stone, Hollybush and Standen.' These buildings have been incorporated into the design of the new house, which was fully modernised for the time, complete with central heating and electricity. We especially loved the conservatory room which was full of orchids, cacti, palms and other strange looking plants. It's probably a room that I would spend a lot of time in if I lived here; imagine all of the windows wide open, looking out to the lawn beyond, hearing the birds chirping in the trees. Blissful.

The house is stuffed full of William Morris designs, some of which I recognised immediately, and others that I needed a bit of a gentle reminder of their names. I learnt a little fact about the beautiful bedspread in the bottom left and centre images of the above montage; it is the William Morris 'Acanthus' design, and was supposedly hand stitched by his younger daughter, May, as a commission for a wedding present. It disappeared for a time but after about a hundred years locked away in a trunk, it was anonymously donated to Standen in the 1990s on the condition that it would always be on display; beautiful isn't it?

An artist who is often linked to William Morris in terms of inspiration and use of colour is Kaffe Fassett, and it was an absolute joy to be able to see some of his work up close and personal at the exhibition and throughout the house. The colours are astounding and the large quilts which are hanging on the walls are breathtaking in their complicated simplicity. It's amazing to see the individual stitches in the tapestry cushions and and panels, and see the little blemishes in the stitching on the quilts. The Mother was gleefully pointing out areas of machine stitch where the lines had come out from 'in the ditch' and made a little wobble- tiny imperfections that get lost in the bigger picture but show the hand crafted element up close. Nothing hand made should be absolutely perfect in my opinion, there should always be a little something to make it unique.

The colours outside reflect the colours within, I imagine Kaffe would be totally inspired by the glorious tulips covering pretty much every surface. As we are only just out of Easter, there was still an Easter themed trail to follow, in the shape of these cute little crochet bunnies. We didn't find them all- there were seven in total- but we did quite well. Poor things were mostly strapped to various trees- do you think they look like an Attic 24 pattern?

 In the Upper Garden (which was surrounded by fantastic views across Weir Wood reservoir and Ashdown Forest) there was a sweet little hut designed by Will Shannon. Nicknamed 'Bothy', it's a tiny little space just big enough for a cabin bed, chair and log burner. The walls are covered in an open weave woollen fabric which keeps the space feeling very warm and compliments the beautiful mottled stained glass in the large window and also in the door. I could definitely do with one of these in the back garden!

The views really are incredible, and there is a walkway and viewing platform that curls away from the house to take full advantage of the area.

Who needs trips to the tulip fields in Holland when you can achieve the same effect in the back garden of a country manor house?!

If you are in the area, I would thoroughly recommend you visit Standen, stat! Such a fabulous combination of arts and crafts, nature and nurture- I think the Beale family would be proud of how it has evolved.

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