Knole replaces a room with a photograph...
When you walk through Knole’s showrooms, you will be taking part in the National Trust’s biggest and most exciting experiment in conservation.
For centuries Knole’s irreplaceable furniture and paintings have survived the cold, damp, leaks and draughts of their medieval home. To preserve the house’s treasures, we need to improve the rooms to control humidity and temperature. We’d also like to light them better.
We've started in the Reynolds Room.
What has been done?
Over the winter we stripped the room of its paintings and furniture (which are all being conserved at the property). We sealed the windows with new lead, insulated the floor and ceiling, rewired the walls and installed environmental monitors. We placed a room-size electric heating mat on the floor, and brought in free-standing heaters which will turn on and gently heat the space when humidity levels rise above a certain level.
Stud partitions were built out from the walls, making the room slightly smaller, and we fastened in place a seamless, vinyl, panoramic photograph of the paintings, furniture, walls, doors, fireplace and windows. The photo was taken at ultra-high resolution (more than 200 megapixels for the longest wall).
So what's so surprising about it?
The effect is uncannily real: if you’re in a hurry you might not even notice the change. The photograph is so clear that details of the nine Reynolds paintings, the Gainsborough, the Romney and other pictures, are now visible for the first time in decades. The furniture looks real. The doors look as if you could open them.
We’re going to put some pieces back in the room and monitor it for a year to see how the room reacts to constant temperature and humidity – and this is where you, the visitors, come in. Literally. We want to see what effect more than 90,000 visitors a year walking through the Reynolds Room will have on our measurements.
When we discover the ideal conservation conditions, we will take down the cladding, insulate and light the room, return all the pictures and furniture – and roll out the work to the rest of Knole’s showrooms.
All over the country, National Trust places are waiting to see the results of our experiment. It is a pilot scheme to inform a multi-million pound conservation project at Knole – the biggest in the UK – that you will be hearing much more about in the years to come.
We want you to watch it happening: we are building a specialist conservation studio here at Knole where you can watch the restoration of our hundreds of precious treasures while their rooms are modified.