We don’t often work outside London but to be involved in a project with so much history was something we all wanted to be part of. Our original remit had been to carefully renovate many areas of the main house but we soon realized that the staircase was not what it seemed. In fact some of the load-bearing beams were dangerously close to collapsing. It was then a case of devising a long-term structural solution.
How long did it take to complete?
End to end it took over 7 months to complete and involved many of the G&Co. team including Gints and Matt (joiners), Peter (lime plastering), Thomas (moulding and decoration). We also asked the help of a number of our other specialists to complete the internal scaffolding, structural steel work, French polishing, etc. together with conservation architects, structural engineers and planning officers. In total it has probably required the minds and hands of 31 individuals.
What did you learn from the project?
We have all learnt a huge amount about Tudor construction techniques but I think Peter’s learning curve was the steepest. He is a highly skilled plasterer and has been working in the trade for the last 20 years however applying horsehair lime plaster is a very unique process that cannot be rushed. Many layers are built up over long periods of time: the plaster has to have the right balance of hair, the right elasticity, the right surface and sub surface humidity. New layers can only be applied when the surface moisture is just right. If that’s not enough to think about the material weights were enormous – lifting 4.5 tons above your head in a relatively confined space is not recommended! Modern building practices have largely overcome these challenges so it was a step back in time for everyone involved.
What other challenges did the team have to over-come?
With any building project there are challenges that both a site team and the client have to consider but that is often a question of budget, timing and will. In an historic building the variables are more diverse and complex such as the inter-relationship between modern and traditional materials. In this particular case we had to consider: how to support the combined weight of 8 cubic meters of oak together with the wardrobes and fitted joinery that accompany contemporary living; where we could hide a steel structure without damaging the original architecture and features, and how we could build a heavy scaffolding on a delicate Victorian staircase. The client’s determination to carefully preserve the historic nature, materials and features of the building fortunately made all this possible and will we hope preserve the staircase for centuries to come.
What are the do’s & don’ts?
Heritage work and restoration requires a lot of time and careful consideration, so read widely (or consult) before you take this on and allow yourself enough time. In the modern world that is in short supply!