This guide is about how to restore original plaster mouldings, Such as cornices, coving, ceiling roses and corbels, by using clues and evidence from both your own property and neighbouring properties. We also share our knowledge of these wonderful decorative elements.
Are you the new owner of a lovely period property? Then you may be faced with the task of restoring the character of a building that has lost many of its original plaster mouldings – perhaps as a result of conversions, of neglect or of a viciously inappropriate modernisation. Where they have been removed their careful reinstatement can dramatically enhance a plain room.
In all cases, the work should be approached cautiously, and an examination of the room should be made before beginning. Cornices and ceiling roses long since removed may have their profiles sharply preserved in the layers of paint. Closer inspection behind scraped back wall paper may reveal where the edges of plaster mouldings used to be. For example, parallel lines formed of subtle bumps and hollows where ceiling and walls meet can give an indication of the size of the cornice that was originally there.
If your new house is in an avenue with similar houses or in row of uniform terraces, it is definitely worth inspecting your neighbour’s houses in case they have any mouldings that have been lost from your own house. This also gives you a good excuse to meet them! If you find any original mouldings you can draw out their profiles using a profile gauge. A reputable and competent plaster mould master will be able to recreate the profile for you.
Tip for purists: Wherever possible, avoid of the peg mouldings, since for anything beyond the most basic cornices, they tend to be historically inaccurate and fairly crude. If you ever get the chance, a visit to charming John Nash villa at Llanerchaeron, Set in the heart of the beautiful Aeron Valley, is a great example of perfectly restored period cornice.
The complexity of mouldings is proportional to the pretension of the room; the humbler the function, and hence the fewer visitors, the more modest the mouldings. Thus while drawing rooms on the ground and first floors feature elaborate cornices and highly enriched ceiling roses, (see this post for victorian ceiling roses) rooms at the top of the house may have only simple box cornices and no ceiling rose at all. If reintroducing original period mouldings of plaster or wood into a house that has lost all trace of the original patterns, it’s very important to keep this context firmly in mind. Over elaborate mouldings set in rooms that they were not originally intended for inevitably look cramped and ridiculous.
As a general rule for the purist, mouldings should not be used to change the character of the house; they should rather be used with restraint, to draw out the character that is already there.
Greenwich cornice offers a plaster mouldings restoration service. We also advise our clients on which mouldings are correct for their type of property.