Restoration

Restoration is what we do.
Here you see the leaf capital and sunken jamb panel from an early 1790s timber and composition Chimney-piece. Now completely covered in layers of paint applied through the changing tastes of 225 years use. Our careful removal of these layers revealed the quality of the detail when it was first made.

To have survived between two and three hundred years for any antique is remarkable. Chimney-pieces more so. Because they were the main source of both heat and light for all rooms, and in our cold climate were in use for most of the year, the subsequent damage from heat and smoke on many of them is substantial. Additionally they are prone to suffer mechanical damage from fire tools, fenders, coal buckets.
Furthermore, changes in taste from the very beginning of the 19th Century were responsible for many extreme alterations in their height. Being fragile, additional damage often occurs if they were removed and refitted.

Restoring these substantial and specific damages is what we specialise in. Scroll down for an example of our restoration of a 1780’s Chimney-piece, as well as a selection of completed projects.

Restoration


Our preferred cleaning process requires the use of non-abrasive cleaning agents to dissolve and remove discoloured waxes, grime, soot and smoke staining. An example of a chimney-piece prior to our restoration is illustrated above. This is a late 18th century chimney-piece of elegant refinement, incorporating high relief carving, formed from a combination of white Italian statuary marble and Spanish Brocatello marble. The chimney-piece had not been restored since it was originally made in circa 1780 and had been broken by in-experienced carriers. Our process of restoring it involved undertaking test trials to determine which process was best applied to the removal of the surface dis-colourations. Prior to this all of the soot or smoke staining and residual deposits to the back edge of the marble within the chimney-piece were removed. Where elements have suffered mechanical damage or the surface had broken down we undertook some consolidation, effected by hand, using abrasives similar to the techniques used by the Georgians.

Great care was taken to ensure that as much of the original integrity or history of the chimney-piece was retained, and thus wear and tear resulting from the use of fenders/fire tools etc was retained together with minor abrasions and chips. More substantial repairs were effected, again in the Georgian manner, by cutting in square blocks of matching marble and working these down to match the existing mouldings or profiles. This was and always is a complicated and time consuming process. Sourcing matching marble can be problematical in that many of the coloured marbles used to create chimney-pieces in the 18th Century are now increasingly scarce. We have a considerable collection of stock, and are therefore usually confident of being able to find a closely match marble, or of locating supplies of even the rarest marbles from antiquity.

You will see below details of the central table of this chimney-piece, which depicts Cupid and Psyche, as well as a detail of the raised relief of roses on one of the tapering jambs, such ornament, suggesting that it originated from a ladies room. The surface and smoke discolouration was successfully removed to reveal the pure white statuary marble beneath. Four coats of poultice were applied and then removed and the surface thoroughly cleaned by hand. The whole was then left to dry prior to the chimney-piece being re-assembled. Upon completion, the whole was treated with an application of a protective coat of wax, which simulates the original reflective surface which would have been the way it was finished when first made, without having to alter the surface detail.

Reinstallation


 Re-installation or installation work is best taken into consideration at the very earliest point in all projects. This is particularly important because generally speaking all 18th Century chimney-pieces are designed to fit back within the brick opening of the fire place. This was a practical means of preventing the fire from spreading to the building, the fireplaces therefore generally have a wide opening with a brick arch and chimney bar above (commonly replaced nowadays with a lintel).  In this instance a veined statuary marble slab has been used, as the chimney-piece was being fitted into a late 18th century London town house, and there was evidence that veined marble slabs had been used within the building when first built. Re-installation of this was effected over a three day period with the building contractor adjusting the opening and setting the support for the slab in place prior to delivery to site. Another consideration is the projection of the slab of a chimney-piece which in the 18th Century was substantially greater than most modern projects take into consideration.

The projecting slab was intended to provide a fire proof area in front of the grate (and fire) which, when polished, would reflect the light out from the fire into the room. Each slab’s projection was of course governed by the dimensions of the chimney-piece with most 18th Century chimney-pieces having a slab that extended the full width of the chimney piece at floorboard level. To highlight the importance of the slab it was common within the larger entertaining rooms for the respective widths of the slabs to be half of their extent, and these were virtually always fitted flush with the finished floor level, a feature frequently mis-understood in 2015. Furthermore these slabs are often made from fine white or veined statuary marble, again refer to our reports. See the image above for an example of a modern veined marble slab fitted with the restored marble chimney-piece.

Re-carving

An original early 19th century acanthus leaf carving from a blocking of a chimney-peice designed by John Nash, and our modern copy shown on the left. Occasionally chimney-pieces require sections of marble re-carved. This is effected by working in conjunction with surviving elements using plaster moulds, profiles, scale drawings, and using our extensive Research Archive strives to ensure that the very best possible reconstruction can be achieved using related examples. Shown with this an image of an acanthus leaf blocking from a chimney-piece designed by John Nash. One of the originals had been lost so we re-carved a replacement using the original as a template.Virtually all of the marble elements were originally finished to a high gloss (almost glass) finish but over the decades the surface of the marble, which is comparatively soft, has frequently deteriorated, and the polish, designed to reflect the light from an open fire, has been dulled.

Please Note

It is extremely rare for us to undertake on-site restoration work on marble chimney-pieces. The reason for this is that a chimney-piece that has been installed around a working fire frequently has a build up of soot within it, and this almost without exception complicates our ability to professionally clean it. It is generally in the chimney-pieces best interests to be removed for restoration work, subject to the provision of all necessary permissions and of course a close examination to determine what the very best approach is. Within many buildings listed building consent is often required, but we have established a good reputation and have a very responsible approach to these important features of historic buildings. This is summarily illustrated in one of our recent Research Reports, a Late 18th Century London Town House.

Servants Rooms and Attic Stories

Much of our work involves the cleaning and restoration of the finest quality marble chimney-pieces made by some of the leading sculptors during the 18th Century. We do however undertake smaller works including the restoration and cleaning of chimney-pieces from the servant rooms and attic stories. The elegance of these simpler chimney-pieces is rarely understood, or indeed appreciated. Although constructed in a comparatively simple manner using relatively cheap materials, such as Pine frames with Portland Stone slips and slabs (although basement levels tended to use the same York stone flooring) they have refined dimensions and materials that work extremely well within their settings. They were intrinsic parts of the room finishings and provide a simple architectural focal point.

Completed Projects


If you scroll through the images below you will see a very small selection of some of the more imposing chimney-pieces, generally from main entertaining rooms of a number of 18th Century houses. The projects represent a small insight into some of the quality of the work that we have been involved in. We intend to produce an additional page shortly of some of the lesser chimney-pieces from the basements, anti-rooms and bedrooms.

We have worked on chimney-pieces designed by James Paine, Robert and James Adam, Henry Holland, James Wyatt, Sir Robert Taylor, Inigo Jones, Richard Boyle Third Earl of Burlington, Sir William Chambers, James Gibbs, Isaac Ware, Sir John Soane, Sir Robert Smirke, Batty Langley, James Byres, George Richardson, Carr of York, George Dance, Matthew Brettinghan, and Henry Flitcroft.

And carved by Sir Henry Cheere, Robert Taylor, John Michael Rysbrack, John Francis Moore, Joseph Wilton, Peter Turnerelli, Richter and Bartoli, Richard Hayward, the Devalls, John Flaxman, James Lovell, John Bacon and many others.