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Kenwood House


A recent article in Heritage Today (the English Heritage members’ magazine) has profiled the research of Dr Naomi Luxford (UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, Bartlett School of Graduate Studies) who is investigating the cause of damage to marquetry furniture. Change or Damage? is a three year project funded by the AHRC / EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme and is a partnership between the UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage and English Heritage.


The article highlighted the monitoring work being undertaken at the case study site, Kenwood House, an English Heritage property on Hampstead Heath, North London. As part of Change or Damage? a year-long monitoring project on the veneer and marquetry furniture is being carried out. The monitoring uses a range of techniques to study changes in colour, surface profiles, chemical deterioration and crack formation. As wood is hygroscopic it responds to changes in moisture throughout the year, however the damage caused by these changes has not been studied previously.

Traditionally museums use air-conditioning to minimise fluctuations and maintain an average relative humidity around 50%. However in historic houses, such as Kenwood House, these systems are not present and installing them would damage the historic building fabric as well as requiring significant energy costs to operate. The research assesses what happens to the historic furniture collections outside these ‘desired’ conditions and how damaging, or not, they are. The monitoring results are being compared with the display conditions within the historic building to study the effect the current environment has on the historic furniture. This assessment will lead to recommendations for environmental control in the future to prevent damage to marquetry and veneer surfaces on historic furniture.

Marquetry at Kenwood House

(Above) An example of the intricate floral marquetry on a commode at Kenwood House

(Top) Kenwood House, English Heritage

The article mentioned another Science and Heritage project Heritage Smells that both UCL and English Heritage are partners with the University of Strathclyde. This research is studying the volatiles generated by paper and plastic within collections to help identify the condition of the object. These cause the distinctive musty book smells; however these gases, indoor generated pollutants, often cause deterioration to the same materials that produce them.

Links

Naomi Luxford's profile

Change or Damage project website

Science and Heritage Programme

English Heritage

Heritage Smells project website

University of Strathclyde