Heather Porter

Senior Conservator (Upholstery), Knole

Heather Porter - Senior Conservator (Upholstery)

If Heather Porter had to choose any piece of furniture to work on it would be the humble chair. Even better if it were eighteenth century, a period she loves for its elegant design and graceful silhouettes. Heather is a specialist in upholstery and joins Knole with a CV that would be any conservator’s dream.

Heather Porter in the Conservation Studio at Knole

After completing an MA in Upholstery Conservation at the Royal College of Art in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum, Heather worked in the United States for eight years.

Her first position was a graduate internship at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, a reconstructed eighteenth century town. Heather went on to work at Lyndhurst, a nineteenth century National Trust gothic mansion on the Hudson River. A fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York followed before Heather took a job as an upholstery conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston during the building of its new American Wing.

In 2011 Heather returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to work on the Dr Susan Weber Gallery, which opened in 2012 as a permanent home for the museum’s furniture collection.

Heather now brings the benefit of her experience to Knole where she has a particular interest in researching the original construction methods of the collection. Here at Knole her work is about preservation: the aim is not to change how pieces look, but to conserve them to be the best versions of themselves.

Heather has a range of techniques to help her including constructing frames, which can be hung on brackets and placed under a chair. This improves the piece’s profile but crucially conserves the original structure underneath.

Her first task at Knole was to work on the six velvet-covered chairs and two sofas in the Reynolds Room, thought to date from the 1730s. Dust had infiltrated the fibres of the cloth and Heather gave them a deep clean using a smoke sponge, a block of foamed latex with open cell structures, which is squeezed to close the cells drawing out the dirt. Then she gave the chair seats a subtle visual lift (using a simple wooden board and padding) and replaced the badly damaged trim with a copy of the original.

In upholstery conservation much of the work is invisible. Heather’s advice is always to look at a piece of furniture from underneath for the most interesting views.