Inauthentic restoration details can be something of a bug-bear once you start noticing them. Picture rails, for example, have started appearing in Georgian properties – would this make our ancestors turn in their grave, or would they be happy for a more eclectic feel to evolve in their carefully proportioned rooms? Do we even care what is authentic or not, or is it more to do with a lack of understanding of the ‘rules of history’, and when to break them?
In an era of economic downturn and simultaneous re-focus on the sector of refurbishment of existing buildings many designers are finding themselves inadvertently thrust into this type work. Prior experience of working as such doesn’t necessarily mean relevant knowledge is developed ‘on the job’. Nothing can really substitute doing historic research: for fun an equation might look like this:
Historical Understanding = Research + Effort + Time
It’s easy to see how it is often Time that is sacrificed from the equation in our industry.
As someone whose architectural lectures on pre-Modernist buildings encompassed a relatively brief canter through the ages I would suggest it cannot be assumed all architects are intimately familiar with historic details. Increasing our working knowledge of such will improve our design detailing and decision-making, and not leave us high and dry when engaging with other conservation professionals.
Back to our Georgian ancestors: as designers if we are put in a position of having to carve up spaces and alter the proportions of historic rooms we should go into the exercise with a better understanding of how the building’s contemporaries would have handled the spaces with the architectural tools available at the time.
Probably the most lateral thinking architect in re-fashioning interior spaces of the Georgian period was Robert Adam. His commission at Home House (1775) demanded a reworking of his predecessor Wyatt’s scheme1. It is an interesting case study of two Georgian architects using very different approaches to holistic detailing of rooms to create spatial illusions.
As our projects and clients become more demanding of space available designers would do well to learn a few historic tricks of the trade for successful modern schemes within heritage buildings.
Further information: I’ve come across two books that focus on historic architectural interiors that are proving to be really useful:
Calloway, S. (2012). The Elements of Style: An Encyclopedia of Domestic Architectural Detail.
4th Edition. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.
Pile, J. (2009). A History of Interior Design.
Third Edition. London: Lawrence King Publishing Ltd.
Course: The National Design Academy runs a correspondence Foundation Degree in Heritage Interior Design which is bridging this apparent knowledge gap. Click here for details.
1 Harris, E. (1997). Home House: Adam Versus Wyatt. Burlington Magazine. Vol.139. (1130, May). p.308-321.