Do's and Don'ts of owning a Georgian Property
10 Do's and Don'ts:
- Timescale/historical accuracy
DO: Remember that the Georgian period was an extremely long one. It began in 1714 and is generally regarded as having ended in 1820, overlapping with the Regency period (1800-1830). There are therefore many stylistic differences within the Period. From 1714 to about 1760 the Palladian style (named after the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio) reigned supreme. From 1760-1790 the Adam (named after Robert Adam) or neoclassical style, was in vogue. From c 1790 - 1830 the Regency style prevailed. Although all these styles lend themselves to very grand houses most people who own Georgian houses live in more intimate examples of the style, which is characterised in all instances by elegance, proportion and symmetry.
- Do be careful over door furniture. Much of
the door furniture retailing as "Georgian style" is
not. For a start most door furniture produced in the
period was cast iron painted black. Many manufacturers
suggest that brass door furniture was the norm in
the Georgian period, but it was not. You should be
able to obtain help from one of the specialist catalogues,
the Internet or reclamation yards. A good start might
be the Building Conservation Directory, which is published
annually in the autumn. Try www.buildingconservation.com or the Seeking Specialists section on this website.
Remember that Georgian front doors generally had central
knobs positioned at waist height and no letterboxes.
The latter were a mid-Victorian invention.
- Do remember that the Georgians were very
fond of painted doors, windows and furniture. The
modern tendency to strip softwood furniture would
be an anathema to any Georgian. Only very expensive
timbers such as seasoned oak and mahogany would have
been left unpainted. Georgian interior colours were
very different from what we are used to nowadays,
but that was mainly due to pigment technology rather
than taste. Iron and red oxides were by far the cheapest
pigments in those days, so the interior colours were
very often rather dull by today's standards. Various
shades of brown and murky greens predominated. Reds
yellows and blues were virtually never seen.
"The brighter colours available to the Georgians were fine for dyes but would not work in paints," said Georgian interior paintwork expert Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints (www. Colourman.com) of Chelsea. "My advice to owners of Georgian houses is to work out what you want to do with colour and stick to it." Unless your house is Grade I or Grade 11* you won't be allowed to use lead paint. It retains brush strokes and is very difficult to emulate, and ages in a totally different way from a modern paint, so I do not always encourage people to try and use it as it has an altogether different character."
Mouldings were almost never picked out in another colour in middle class Georgian households.
- Do pay attention to your interior plasterwork,
especially if it has some fine ornamental details
like ornate cornices, covings and ceiling roses. One
way you can protect them is to ensure contractors
take great care if you are having new wiring or a
central heating system installed. Two-hundred-and-fifty
year-old ornate plaster details do not take kindly
to a large amount of disturbance above. If you are
thinking of making alterations remember that reproducing
or extending ornate friezes and covings is a skilled
- and therefore expensive-- job. Beware off-the peg
mouldings for fine restoration work: many modern plaster
products are historically inaccurate. Again your local
conservation officer may be able to point you in the
When it came to decoration in Georgian times, traditionally glue-bound soft distempers (not to be confused with the more modern water-bound 'hard distempers') were used to paint internal plasterwork. When repainting fine Georgian plasterwork it is best to avoid modern emulsion paints which will very quickly clog up moulded plaster detail and are very difficult to remove. It is far better to use distemper as it can be easily removed using warm water and a soft brush.
- Do retain as many interior features as possible
if you are undertaking an extensive restoration. A
good example is fireplaces. There are very many ranges
of reproduction Georgian and Victorian fireplaces
nowadays but if the original is repairable, why not
retain it? After all it is far more likely to be an
original piece than a modern casting, even if it based
on an original catalogue, that can be seen in Georgian
style interiors from Carshalton to Carlisle. The basic
Georgian fire surround had a plain wooden frame with
two uprights and a beam. It formed the basis of all
chimneypiece designs in the period. However the adornment
reflected the status and wealth of the owner, so if
your fireplace is run down but has a carved surround
with large swags and shells in the style of Inigo
Jones, and it look old, hang onto it!
Georgian floorboards are equally hard to replicate. You will generally find that, in both hard and soft woods, they were usually wider - and to many more attractive - than the boards available today. Always try to repair rather than throwing out wholesale and starting again. Georgian floors were often painted.
- Do Do take care of your exterior plasterwork
- better known as rendering or stucco. Stucco was
a common feature of Georgian exteriors. The word is
usually used when render is made to look like stone
- usually in the grander houses, with large incised
deep V-shaped grooves in it known as rustication.
When it was stone-coloured it was often so effective
that even today you sometimes have to go up and feel
it to tell whether it is a stucco or genuine limestone.
Much of the art of Georgian stucco work has been lost
today but a good rule of thumb is always to use lime
and not portland cement as a binder in the mix. Lime
would almost certainly have been used originally it
does not shrink and expand in the same way as cement
render. When seeking a contractor to carry out repairs
it is generally wise to research local historic techniques
first. A good first port of call is your local conservation
officer. The Georgian Group (www.georgiangroup.org.uk)
has produced an advisory leaflet on render, stucco
and plaster. For details dial 020 7529 8920.
- Do take care of your exterior stonework.
If it is fine facing stone (ashlar) with close joints
it might become flaky in places. This depends on the
nature of the stone and the local circumstances: in
areas with a lot of traffic passing the nitrogen in
some fuels forms nitrous acid when it comes into contact
with limestone and can cause the surface of the stone
to become crumbly. The best course is to limewash
it. You can get translucent limewashes that are almost
invisible - they are known as 'shelter coats' - but
applying them is generally a specialist job because
the idea is to fill in the pores in the stone and
remove the surplus. Replacement of individual blocks
of stone is obviously a job for a skilled stonemason,
but this is usually not necessary unless there is
considerable stone decay or it is necessary to replace
a moulding or a weathering detail. Stone cleaning
is a controversial subject. Many conservationists
regard it as a temporary measure that should be carried
out only when absolutely necessary. This is because
of its potential to remove the patina of age, cause
damage to both sandstone and limestone, and accentuate
imperfections and differences in mortars where there
have been repairs carried out in the past.
- Do pay great attention to your windows if
you are restoring a Georgian house. If it is listed
you will be forced to and this will mean you should
be able to avoid double glazing unless you really
want to. There are companies that specialise in installing
almost invisible double glazing in period sash windows,
but it is very expensive, and not always aesthetically
successful. The reason for this is that the weight
of the additional glass means that non-traditional
means of counterbalancing the panes have to be introduced
that means some of the sections have to be increased
in size, so the look of the window can be drastically
Building Conservation bodies like SPAB recommend secondary double glazing in preference.
The double-hung sash is the quintessential Georgian window. Virtually no Georgian windows were constructed to a standard size, so you will have to search for a competent joinery shop. Again the Building Conservation Directory should be able to help.
The characteristic mid-Georgian sash window was usually of six-over-six or eight-over-eight panes. However as the 18th century progressed this was superseded by windows that were larger in size and four-over-four or even two-over-two panes. Glazing bars grew much thinner and the whole look much more refined. These wonderful glazing bars are very hard to replace and often of the highest quality.
Householders are frequently tempted to discard them and replace with new that are frequently inferior, so the advice is to take a hard look at them and try and repair before condemning them to the skip and replacing them with something that will almost certainly be in inferior timber and nothing like as elegant.
- Do Not be tempted to throw out complete staircases
just because they are in a poor state of repair. Like
windows you will it find it very hard to get exact
replacements, one of the reasons being that most joinery
companies use machinery on a widespread scale and
only a small number nowadays specialise in the traditional
hand techniques that produced such very individual
- Do Not neglect your pointing. Brick
is the material par excellence in the Georgian house
and the means of binding the bricks together is almost
as important as the choice of brick itself. If you
are restoring a Georgian fašade be sure to employ
a contractor who knows what he is doing. Many Georgian
houses have been ruined by repairs using the wrong
mix and the wrong method of pointing. A lime mortar
would always have been used. The most common method
of pointing was the traditional flush joint, where
the mortar is finished flush with the brick face.
However in Georgian and Victorian times tuck pointing
was widely employed on fine facades to create a finer
form of joint. It was also sometimes used to disguise
irregular and damaged or cheap bricks. The joints
were filled flush with mortar coloured to match the
bricks, and then scored with a thin groove, which
was then filled with a thin ribbon of finer (usually
white but sometimes black) mortar. The geometric exactness
of the tucked ribbon disguised any irregularity in
the bricks or bonding. If you have tuck pointing in
need of restoration it may spell bad news, for these
sort of facades are best tackled wholesale, and not
in piecemeal fashion. If tuck pointing is carried
out in patches the result is often visually disastrous.
Needless to say it is a job for a specialist contractor.
SPAB (www.SPAB.org.uk) has produced a technical pamphlet
and an information sheet on repointing brick and stone
and tuck pointing respectively. For details dial 020
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