Home is where the Hearth is – Renovating period fireplaces

By , Mar 23 18

renovated victorian fireplace

renovated victorian fireplace

victorian fireplace before renovation

sitting room after

original fireplace found behind 1930’s replacement

This is how to keep warm in this bitterly cold weather. There is something very reassuring about sitting by an open fire, feeling the glow and listening to the crackling of the logs. This fireplace was hidden behind the 1930’s fireplace seen below.  The owner wanted to renovate it and by removing the fireplace carefully, it revealed what you see. An 18th century style log basket was all that was required to create this welcoming sight. The early Victorian fireplace shown in the 2nd image was tranformed with relative ease and enhanced by the choice of wallpaper. Contrary to what one is led to believe – that all the heat goes up the chimney, is wrong- infact it throws heat into the room making it positively cosy. Add a glass of fine wine and a decent read, what more could one want!


1930's fireplace in Tudor house

1930’s fireplace hiding original before renovation

My stand at the Listed Property Owners Club show, Olympia

By , Mar 12 18


Old Home Interiors – ‘Dressed’ Stand at the LPOC show, Olympia

Interior Design in the Chinoiserie style, fashionable in the 18th century and 1920’s

By , Nov 1 17

Last week I met some friends for dinner at The Wolseley Restaurant, St James’, Piccadilly. I  have walked past the building with its grand facade many times but had never ventured in until last week. What a wonderful surprise! The original 1920’s Chinoiserie revival interior survives and it inspired me to write about the Chinoiserie style in this months blog. https://www.thewolseley.com/history

Chinoiserie comes from the french word ‘chinois’ meaning Chinese, A style in the 18th century inspired by the import to Europe of silks, porcelain and laquer ware from China, Japan and Asia made possible by the trading with the East India Company. The demand  grew and grew and the height of this fashionable style was between 1750-1765. It influenced British furniture makers and craftsmen who began to create their own designs in architecture, furniture, decorative items and fashion to feed the consumers’ insatiable appetite for this style.


Chinoiserie architecture, 18th century



Designed by architect Sir William Chambers for Princess Augusta, founder of Kew Gardens.50 metres high, completed in 1762. He  specialized in garden buildings, designing many for Kew – the bridge and the aviary in addition to the pagoda. He travelled to China returning with original designs which he adapted to english surroundings.



Chinese House, Stowe 1738



A garden pavillion commissioned by Viscount Cobham in 1738. Attributed to William Kent.




This was the British East India Company headquarters in London, the East India company extended to headquarters in India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and British Hong Kong.


The import of tea made  Tea drinking a fashionable pastime and a way to show off ones’ wealth.


This painting depicts ladies taking tea. Note the tea bowls which are most probably imported from China. Handles were not on tea bowls until after 1750. They then became a teacups. Tea was usually taken in the drawing room or if there were just ladies present, then tea would be taken in the ladies private boudoir or bedroom.



. The 2 small flasks were  brown and green tea leaves and the larger centre flask for sugar. Note the lock.

Tea and sugar were very expensive commodities therefore had to be stored safely and securely by the housekeeper or mistress of the house. Lockable  tea caddies, caskets and teapoys were the outcome of this need. They were usually decorative objects made from various woods, silver, tortoiseshell, porcelain and enamel. Some were very ornate and highly decorated as shown in the example above.


Jean Pillemont (1728-1808) was a french artist who settled in London. He attributed greatly to Chinese designs and published two collections of his designs in 1755 and 1762. Many of his designs were copied and adapted to a variety of porcelain. textiles, furniture and wallpapers.



Famille rose design

Renowned cabinet makers in that time were  Thomas Chippendale and William and John Linnell (father and son}. ‘Chinese Chippendale’ is a universal term to describe pieces made in this period. The Linnells designed furniture for the China Room in Badminton House, the ‘Badminton Bed’ being one of the most well known of their designs. Now housed on permanent display at the V&A museum.




The Badminton Bed, designed and manufactured by William and John Linnell. V&A Museum.

Thomas Chippendale was born in 1718 into A Yorkshire family of carpenters. He moved to St Martins Lane, London in 1748 which had become ‘the place to be’ if you were a cabinet maker. He set up his cabinet making business there, he produced and published pattern directories in 1754, 1755 and 1762 which were a huge success and his designs were much in demand at home and abroad and by 1755 he was employing between 40 – 50 craftsmen made up of cabinet makers, carvers and upholsterer.  cash flow was always a problem as people never paid on time. He died in 1779 and his son Thomas took over the business, cash flow continued to be a problem and the business closed in 1804.







THE CHINESE ROOM, CLAYDON PARK (National Trust) has survived in tact and is one of the most elaborate examples of chinoiserie interior design in the country. It was designed by Luke Lightfoot in 1769. Intricate carving adornes the doors, fireplace and tea alcove.






A folding screen decorated in the chionoiserie style was a popular way of bringing the style into a room as depicted in this painting by Francis Boucher.



With a great choice of sumptious  silks now available, it became fashionable to wear them. Gentlemen sported a long flowing silk coat called a ‘banyan’.


Chinoiserie re-emerged in the 1920’s. It is seen in architecture, interior decoration, furniture, decorative items and ladies fashion.

1920’s bathroom decorated in the Chinese style



1920’s cocktail cabinet with chinoiserie decoration.

Renovating an early 18th century front door

By , Aug 17 17

Image 1

This ancient oak front door was crying out to be renovated. The door, knocker, letterbox and surround were covered in a thick black layer of bitumen which over the years had formed into lumps of dried tar. The overall look was dark and unwelcoming. The original steps up had subsided and the single utilitarian hand rail, ugly and not in keeping.

The first task was to remove the bitumen. Gone are the days when one would immerse the entire door into a tank of caustic soda! This was a very historic door so I had to move cautiously. I sent  sample of the black tar to the company who supply conservation materials. They checked it out and advised me to use a poultice which would safely remove the bitumen. The image above shows the 3 panels of the door have had the tar removed, revealing the oak beneath.

Image 2

same section of the door before conservation


I worked on one panel at a time. applying a thick layer of the poultice. This was covered with a sheet of polythene (cut up black dustbin bags worked perfectly) to prevent the poultice from drying out. This was left for 2-3 days for the poultice to work its magic.

Image 3

panel covered in the poultice

Image 4


Image 5

poultice areas covered in polythene

Image 5 shows work in progress. One poulticed panel and other small areas covered in black polythene.

Image 6

door surround undergoing the same treatment

Image 7


door knocker before conservation

Image 8

thumb latch before

Image 9

letter box with bitumen removed


As you can see, the door has some interesting door furniture of different periods. The decorative details of both the knocker and letterbox were hidden from the eye by the bitumen. It was very satisfying to reveal the intricate detail of the knocker – a sunflower – and likewise the beautiful letterbox.

Image 10

detail before conservation

Image 11

before poultice was applied

Removing the tar with the poultice took approximately 2 months. Nothing is quick when it comes to conservation. But if you have the patience, the end result is always very rewarding. After all the bitumen had been removed, I then mixed up a solution of mild detergent, water and distilled malt vinegar. Using clean cotton sheeting cut up into dishcloth size – I wiped this solution over the wood which removed any residue.

Finally a coat of liquid beeswax was applied before buffing up with a soft brush. Below are the results.

Image 12

renovated letterbox

Image 13

renovated thumb latch and brass keyhole cover

Image 14

renovated ‘sunflower’ door knocker


Lastly, to complete the look, the steps were lifted and set firmly in place, 2 handsome hand rails were made and to compliment it all  a boxwood plant was placed each side. I hope you will agree the entrance now makes quite a statement.

the end result

Damp in Old Houses

By , Jun 27 17

cellar before

Cellar before work started

I am going to talk a little on the subject of damp in old houses. I shall  focus on one case which I came across recently which was a cellar in a 17th century house.

On inspection the walls were a mixture of brick and flint which had been painted over with what looked like a lime wash with layers of modern paint. The floor was modern cement over plastic sheeting. There was one air brick which was clogged up with leaves and debris off the street. There was a small window which did not open.

There was no ventilation, the dampness from the ground had been sealed by the plastic membrane and cement so it had risen up the walls which were sopping wet. What had meant to keep the cellar dry had actually made it worse. The picture above shows a small area of how it was – note the blue plastic sheeting sticking out beneath the cement. The timber in that picture was also sodden – in fact rotten where it went into the walls at each end.

wooden steps before

Old steps down before renovation

This image shows the steps down to the cellar before renovation, the cement floor with plastic sheeting and note the green mould on the wall.

steps from other side

Old steps from the other side before renovation

This image shows the brick walls before renovation, as previously described covered in a combination of lime wash and modern vinyl paint.

The cellar was too damp to have any use and the owner wanted to turn the front area into a laundry room whilst the back area into a larder and wine cellar. This was ideal as the back area was north facing and therefore cooler than the area at the front of the house.

There could have been two choices if the house had not been listed but it was Grade II listed and therefore having checked with Listed Building officers tanking the walls was not an option. I believe the better option was what we did. The concrete floor was broken up and removed and the plastic sheeting also removed revealing the chalky floor beneath. By doing this a workable ceiling height was gained A layer of sand went down over the chalk and heritage bricks were laid onto to. Instead of grouting the joins, lime was sprinkled liberally over the bricks and simply brushed into the joins with a soft brush. A simple and breathable and above all aesthetically correct floor created.

newly laid terracotta tile floor

New floor laid with 17th century terracotta tiles

The paint and plaster was removed from the walls with a soft wire brush revealing a very attractive mix of bricks and flint stones. A french sink was plumbed into the front room along with the washing machine and work surface tiled with slate tiles. A new air brick replaced the old one and the small window made to open to allow much needed ventilation.

front area renovatio ont area b

Front area before renovation


same area after renovation

Same area after renovation


ccompleted larder/wine store

Completed larder/wind store with slate surfaces


french sink with brick and flint wll

Installed french sink with restored brick and flint wall behind

paddle steps

New ‘paddle’ steps installed

paddle steps

Paddle steps built to replace 1970’s ladder steps

The stairwell was very restricting and too narrow to accommodate a conventional staircase. The best option was to build a ‘paddle’ staircase. It looks treacherous but infact works very well and reassuringly easy to use.

The area was turned into a usable and useful space. By removing modern materials and using breathable materials + adding ventilation, the dampness slowly but surely evaporated and as long as it is well ventilated the area has turned into a usable and useful space.

The key is is quite simple. Use modern materials for modern buildings and old breathable materials for old buildings. If you mix old with new and visa versa,  problems with damp will arise.