Stonehurst is a Listed Neo-Tudor Gothic Victorian house built in 1862 and extended in 1884. The current owners, Steve Bradbury and Anna Curley contracted Newform Group as Direct Labour to provide specialised lime-plaster restorations throughout the 600sqm property, which is being fully restored and modernised under a Section 5 Permitted Development Project under the supervision of the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council Conservation Office. As manager, I reviewed this relevant conservation context, as well as liaising with conservation operatives on the most appropriate materials and methods to use, before beginning work on the project. Our task, therefore, was to restore this archaic house using lime-plaster in a seamless manner which would revivify the old-fashioned character of the house, marrying the old and the new in the restoration process.
Steeped in rich history
Before setting to work, we discovered that Stonehurst is steeped in rich history. Originally designed by architect William George Murray in the late 1850s for a man called Edward Golding, we found that even today the inscription ‘EG’ is still marked on many of the house’s elegant stained-glass windows. Furthermore, the architectural style of the house would leave a considerable legacy, as indeed another renowned British architect, Francis Bailey, lived in the 1960s. Bailey would go on to design numerous celebrated works later awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Recognising the immense importance of preserving and protecting the history of the house’s interior, Newform began by covering the various interior furnishings such as the lavish Victorian fireplaces, Gothic windows and ceiling covings. We also proceeded to stay exceedingly careful whilst working in close proximity to these furnishings. This ensured that none of these items of value would be harmed in any way during the restoration work.
In beginning this project, the first obstacle we encountered was the poor condition of many of the stripped walls, as most contained cracks or fragile woodwork. This was important to address in order to secure the original walls for a solid foundation before applying fresh lime-plaster. We therefore began by treating the stripped walls, fixing any cracks within the walls and all woodwork with expanding metal mesh.
We then began applying a scud coat of NHL 5 lime mortar product, plastering sand and 2mm pinhead stone to these walls. Though patient ‘curing’ is vital in all forms of plastering, it is especially important when dealing with old, very fragile surfaces; in rushing the process, we would risk inflicting permanent damage to the original walls. Therefore, once this base coat was applied, we left it for two weeks to cure; before applying a float coat and straightening it out using a devil float and leaving the walls for a further 3 weeks to cure again. This ‘deviling’ process is used frequently upon thick plaster surfaces to mark out a key upon which subsequent coats can be applied.
Finally for these walls, we applied a finish coat of Lime Green Natural Solo. We used this eco-friendly product as it allowed us to maintain the ‘breathability’ within the original walls (a necessity in all conservation works) and its all-natural properties accord with environmental and conservation standards which must be strictly adhered to during projects such as this. Moreover, throughout this project, we understood the necessity of leaving sufficient time between applying plaster coats in order to avoid damaging the old, fragile surfaces
Restoring the walls
In treating the existing plaster walls, we initially faced the same problems of cracks within the walls and fragile woodwork. We therefore began again by cutting out any cracks within these walls and fixing any woodwork using expanding metal mesh, thus ensuring a stable foundation before restoring the walls. We then began bonding these cracks using Lime Green Natural Duro, thus further stabilising the walls, before leaving the walls to cure for 3 weeks. Lime Green Natural Duro is another eco-friendly, highly breathable product which is very suitable for mimicking traditional building techniques as it is completely free of cement, gypsum, acrylic, ash and other properties commonly found in modern plastering materials. Throughout this project, Newform Group ensured that all materials utilized were strictly environmentally and conservation-friendly.
Returning, we then applied Aquabond sealer to all lime-plaster surfaces and left to dry for 24 hours. This is another important breathable application which must be applied before lime undercoats to ensure preservation of the original lime-plaster. We subsequently applied the smooth-lime finish coat in 3 coats; the base coat being applied and left for 24 hours to cure, before applying, flattening and polishing the final two coats. Finally, we applied to all walls a finish coat of Luno Kalkglätte natural lime finish; another eco-friendly, highly breathable product that we made sure to apply in coats no thicker than 1-2mm- as thicker coats would risk ‘cracking’ within the old walls. Furthermore, in applying new materials to such old surfaces as these, we understood the need for meticulous order in how we applied these materials, in particular the use of the Aquabond sealer. As manager, I ensured that my crew and I applied such meticulous order and processes to all surfaces on this project.
Throughout the course of this restoration, as MD I consulted with a range of different building specialists- from rendering specialists to conservation operatives- in order to ensure that all materials used befitted the restorative nature of this project. This entailed avoiding any materials containing modern substrates such as cement or gypsum in favour of more eco-friendly, traditional and lime-based materials like NHL 5 lime-mortar and Lime Green Natural Solo. These consultations allowed Newform to select and apply only the most appropriate materials to faithfully restore this neo-Tudor property.
Reflecting on the project
My team and I successfully navigated the inherent difficulty of restoring an old house using new materials and managed to bring this Gothic Victorian monument back to life, seamlessly blending the old and the new. As MD on the project, I consulted with Newform’s conservation operatives all throughout construction in order to discover the best methods for restoring this property. Our commitment to using allnatural, eco-friendly materials coupled with strictly conservation-friendly building methods has breathed new life into this house for many future generations.
Rendering team prep walls
Here we can see the team applying the initial ‘scud’ coats. This creates a necessary foundation for subsequent work upon these old, fragile walls. Allowing these initial coats to sufficiently cure is vital before any further work is carried out upon the walls. Last photo we see the team mixing the NHL 5 lime-mortar outside for the restorative works.
Newform prepare to bring old works back to life
Here we can see the cracks and inequalities in the house’s original walls. Before beginning to restore these walls, we had to fix these cracks using expanding metal mesh. Without this measure, the structural reliance of the new walls would be in jeopardy
The below photographs showcase the finished rooms, with restored limemortar walls and ceilings. All rooms were thoroughly cleaned before removing any covers and protectives placed over valuable old furnishings such as fireplaces and the house’s Gothic windows.
The Newform Group Team
Pictured below are the Newform team members who worked on-site during the Stonehurst restoration project