Science and Heritage Programme
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Change or Damage? Effect of Climate on Decorative Furniture Surfaces in Historic Properties

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London 

Award holder - Dr Naomi Luxford

PROJECT SUMMARY

Change or Damage?

Effect of Climate on Decorative Furniture Surfaces in Historic Properties

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London

Dr N Luxford
Amount Awarded: £235,531.00
Detail of a shrinkage split in the floral marquetry on van Mekeren cabinet, Amerongen Castle

Within historic houses furniture surfaces are often richly decorated which can lead to an increased risk of damage due to the different environmental responses of materials. These composite objects are extremely difficult to study and a systematic work assessing the damage caused by changing humidity and by exposure to light still needs to be performed and is the focus of this proposal. With wood having been assessed as the second most damaged material in English Heritage collections, a number of curatorial questions arise, which need to be answered in an interdisciplinary context. The management of furniture collections, particularly decorative surfaces which are extremely costly to perform conservation interventions on, could become even more difficult due to climate change.

Although these objects are well known to be at a great risk of damage, the unanswered questions are still very fundamental. How dry does the environment need to be for damage to occur? How fast does damage occur? How long does it have to be dry for damage to occur? There are also questions about what constitutes damage. Understanding how conservators, curators and the public feel about these questions can also inform decisions about how to manage and care for the collection and its display environment. Intensive cooperation with English Heritage curators and interpretation officers is therefore planned to answer these questions.

Experimental, as well as in situ research will be carried out in order to understand the effect of the display environment. Since small changes are difficult to measure, sensitive equipment is required in situ. The impact of modern scientific equipment within a historic interior also has to be assessed. After the sensitivity of objects to the environment is modelled, the integration of these models with environmental modelling will be attempted. This will allow for examination of various scenarios, informed by climate change predictions.

The outcomes of the project will be intensively disseminated, however, to increase project impact, studies will be performed on how to integrate the new knowledge on the sensitivity of decorated surfaces into heritage management practices, standards and guidelines.

Image: Detail of a shrinkage split in the floral marquetry on van Mekeren cabinet, Amerongen Castle.

EVENTS

Change or Damage? Exhibition

Kenwood House
Hampstead Lane
London NW3 7JR

Daily 1st Aug - 23rd Oct 2011
11:30am - 16:00pm

This small exhibition describes the difficulties faced in preserving veneer and marquetry furniture at Kenwood House and the need for further research.  Find out more about the range of methods used to understand the collection and improve its preservation.  There is the opportunity to discover details of each technique and the information they provide on the collection at Kenwood House.  The exhibition will give visitors a better understanding of the types of scientific monitoring used and the research undertaken on collections.  It should also help explain how this information can help improve the care of the collections for future generations.

No booking required. Exhibition will be on-site as part of the normal house opening. Free admission.

Further information and directions to Kenwood House are available here.



LINKS AND DOWNLOADS

Marquetry furniture in the Housekeeper’s Room, Kenwood House. Image (c) English Heritage

About Dr Naomi Luxford

Change or Damage project web page

Centre for Sustainable Heritage

Change or Damage project poster


Image, right: Marquetry furniture in the Housekeeper’s Room, Kenwood House. Image (c) English Heritage

CONTACT

Detail of Boulle marquetry cabinet, Kenwood House. Image (c) English Heritage

Detail of Boulle marquetry cabinet, Kenwood House. Image (c) English Heritage


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