Houseworks: How to fix or replace old cornicing

Paint on cornice details can be removed by experts, but if that's too much work a good supplier should be able to replicate the design and provide new cornicing by the metre

Close-up of a traditional, intricate Georgian cornice moulding: decades of paint and  wear and tear can take their toll.

Close-up of a traditional, intricate Georgian cornice moulding: decades of paint and wear and tear can take their toll.

 

The Italians, who love getting creative with plasterwork, first used ceiling cornice in the 16th century as a decorative way to cover up the joint between the ceiling and walls. The Georgians favoured simpler lines and cleaner relief but later the Victorians loved a bit of swag and introduced all kinds of elaborate patterns from egg and darts, bead and reel, rambling roses, grapevines, fruits and ivy leave. The Georgians toned things down, favouring simpler lines and cleaner relief, while early 20th-century designers favoured defined forms with chevron and zigzag patterns.

Common to nearly all period cornicing, however, is decades of paint build-up, and wear and tear from knocks and subsidence. Restoration is best left to the experts and while it is possible to peel back the layers of old paint to reveal original plaster relief, using sugar soap and a wire brush, it’s so labour intensive, sometimes taking hours to complete a few inches, most find it’s not worth the effort.

“It’s much more efficient to call in a specialised plaster company to take a reverse mould in situ, from a section in good nick. From which we create new replica pieces back in our studio. We then return to site and cut out and replace the parts of the cornice where it’s most damaged or remove the strip entirely (especially in cases where new insulation is being added) and fix new lengths all around the room,” says Jane Pernell of The Old Mould Company. Expect to pay anywhere from €200-€1000 to have a bespoke mould made, depending on how plain or ornate, but as Pernell points out, “we have hundreds of patterns pre-cast and on catalogue already, so customers can buy stock lengths with prices ranging from €25 for three metre.” It’s worth noting the price does not escalate if the cornice is more elaborate, as long as it’s a stock pattern, plain or ornate work out at similar costs.

Modern vs period

Eamon Hartnett from Coving.ie, finds he’s on site in modern and new build homes more often than period houses these days. “Cornice really finishes a room and gives a space an established look. It’s also very on-trend right now, and I’m forever having clients showing me interior design magazines asking for that kind of look. People often assume if they have a small house, cornicing won’t work or will shrink the room. But in my experience, even in rooms with 7ft ceilings, cornice actually draws the eye up and around the perimeter, so in fact, makes a room feel taller. The key is to choose a simple streamline pattern and keep it consistent around the house,” says Harnett, who estimates €20 per meter, including material and labour to fit a stock cornice, is the going rate.

The entire process takes about two weeks from ordering to finish and while a preliminary site visit is recommended for period homes, other can simply e-mail dimensions and images of the rooms in question to get a quote. oldmould.ie; www.coving.ie

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