History of Standen house

Standen house from the upper lawn © James Masters

Standen house from the upper lawn

Standen was designed to look as though it has always been here – almost as if it has ‘grown’ out of the rock face and a part of the landscape.  However, the land that Standen now stands upon was originally made up of three farms: Stone, Hollybush and Standen.

The location has fine views of the Medway Valley and Ashdown Forest, so it is no surprise that James and Margaret Beale chose this as the site of their country house. In spring 1891, they enlisted the architect Philip Webb to lead the project.

Modern home, ancient influences

Work began on Standen at the end of 1891. The plans for the house had been revised many times until everyone agreed on the design.

Webb often drew his inspiration from landscapes and historic buildings, and decided to preserve and use some of the medieval farm buildings on the site into his design. Despite these historic influences, the house at Standen was built as a thoroughly modern home, complete with central heating and electricity.

Standen was constructed using local materials and traditional construction methods: only ‘the best materials and workmanship’ would do – a practice in line with the ideals of Arts and Crafts.

‘A house should be clothed by its garden’ William Morris

The house and garden were designed to compliment each other, and it was intended that they be seen together as one design. This followed William Morris’ theory that gardens were a continuation of a house. Margaret Beale was fascinated by plants, and she strongly influenced how the gardens were laid out.

Finished at last

Work finished on the house in 1894, at a cost of £18,065, and the Beales moved in shortly afterwards.

The family and Webb had developed a close working relationship, frequently writing to each other. When work on the house finished the Beales gave Webb a silver snuff box, engraved with ‘When clients talk irritating nonsense, I take a pinch of snuff’, which hints at the kind of working relationship the family and the architect enjoyed.

The family loved Standen, and found it met their needs so well that they scarcely made any changes to it over the following years. Webb had created a unique building about which there is still a real sense of discovery. When you visit today, you can enjoy the rich and varied content of the house: from the abundance of Arts and Crafts interiors, to objects that give a glimpse into the lives of the Beale family.