for People with a Passion for Period Property

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 right direction.

    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 altered.

    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 staircases

  • 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 7377 1644.

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