Preserving traditional buildings: it’s a matter of application

At Suffolk-based Rickards Period Plastering Ltd they feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be working in an area of the country that has a wealth of unique architectural design, using what they feel is a special product: the chalky lime plaster and render. Here, Mike Rickards shares his enthusiasm for traditional plasters.

Coupled with that we have had the delight to work with several clients over the past couple of years who have had an enthusiasm for the material and the property they own – together with the foresight to tackle repairs to their properties in a way that allows the preservation of features that would otherwise be lost under inappropriate cement renders. They addressed issues overlooked by others and grasped the feel of the properties to bring back to life hidden gems.

Seckford cartouche: a formal statement of a property, dating from around the late 17th century. Previous impervious repairs had allowed water penetration. The lower half was re-secured to the background and ‘washed out’, then rebuilt to replicate the previous on new support apertures

The product has a flexibility and softness that lends itself to the fashion and statement that is ‘pargeting’.

A decorative means and statement added to a plain elevation, it can truly add interest. I would argue that, over the centuries, it has been used to enrich a property’s façade and also in some instances add a quirky oddity.

As a plasterer I would admit that looking at a flat wall while you are working can be somewhat boring; but add some detail, let the world be your oyster and enrich the appearance…well, that’s a whole new ball game.

Dragon, herringbone: 15th-century property whose whole elevation had been rendered over with plain cement. But rear elevation had areas of this design under heavy paint, so new lime render was applied and previous design re-instated

Use of lime/chalk plasters lends itself perfectly to that process, as they are possibly the truest available material to match those used in previous centuries. They are also lightweight, supremely flexibly and, importantly – though a heavily overused word – ‘breathable’. That is a vastly important facet when thinking of timber-frame stock.

Chalk plasters offer the ‘softness’ of appearance that we have lost in previous generations, by using impervious and brittle cement-based products that have also added to the damage of the housing stock that we are now repairing.

Use of chalk plasters allows the repair, consolidation and stabilisation of fabric previously lost through poor repair using inappropriate materials, whether through acting with best intentions or an unsympathetic approach.

Ancient house relief: formal late 17th-century frontage. Previous repairs and impervious coating led to loss and deterioration of render and borders. This year’s phase was to repair the ground floor; borders were run in-situ with purpose-made formers to match the previous profile.
Music notes: an architect’s design for a new build, formed in lime/chalk plaster in relief with background etching

The design of lime/chalk plasters offer an immeasurable appeal and the ability to protect and retain potentially lost works. The recent projects pictured demonstrate the material’s flexibility – from subtle notes of gentile design to bold design and enrichment of an elevation. They are a reflection of times gone by – the consolidation and replication of previous design, its support and repair complementing the feel of generations before ours.