The Knole Conservation Studio
The Knole Conservation Studio is the first of its kind in the National Trust, allowing visitors the unique opportunity to watch conservators working on objects from the house’s magnificent collection.
Housed in a beautiful medieval barn, this state-of-the-art space is the only conservation studio at a National Trust property open to the public. It is a perfect mix of contemporary and historical: an airy, open-plan studio with exposed Kentish ragstone walls punctuated by the barn’s original narrow windows.
The studio is accessed from the Brewhouse Café courtyard. A striking glass and metal staircase rises from the light-filled lobby to the floors above with the original pitched barn roof clearly visible.
The first floor is home to the conservation store, a 10-metre humidity-controlled space containing historic items awaiting their turn on the conservator’s bench.
Although the windows have been blacked out to prevent light contamination, visitors have the unique opportunity to see inside using a timed light switch that illuminates the room for short periods of time.
An interactive approach
The main conservation studio is on the second floor – a stunning 35-metre open-plan room with a soaring pitched roof, rebuilt to match the 15th century original destroyed by fire in 1887.
From Wednesday to Saturday, step inside the main studio area to watch conservators at work. Interactive displays give visitors the chance to explore the materials, tools and techniques used by conservators. A props cabinet houses a fascinating series of drawers containing the tools used in four main areas of conservation – gilding, ceramics, furniture and paintings.
Long benches display other equipment used by conservators including a UV light box which can illuminate areas of an object that may have been restored or retouched.
Conservators use every sense in their work and another hands-on display explains how the five senses are integral to working out treatment plans. Visitors have the chance to play conservator, on Joshua Reynolds' self-portrait from the Reynolds Room at Knole, with an interactive iPad to guide them through the decision-making process.
Studio conservators and volunteers are on-hand to answer questions and share their stories about the history of the collection. A whiteboard contains details of what the conservators are working on and a screen relays work happening in other parts of the studio.
The rest of the second floor is given over to the studio itself where the conservators work. Most items from Knole’s collection will be worked on in this studio – from furniture and frames to upholstery and ceramics. In keeping with Knole’s philosophy, objects are given minimalist intervention with the emphasis on stabilising and preserving them for the future. It is the aim of the conservation team that anything they treat will not need further attention for 100 years.
Sharing the expertise
The conservation studio will focus on stabilising Knole’s own collections until 2018. After that the studio will be available to work on objects from other National Trust properties, museums, historic houses and galleries and private collections.
The Knole Conservation Studio is home to highly skilled conservators, specialising in everything from upholstery to leather and picture frames.