Bought a home with beautiful but neglected cornices and ceiling roses? Here's how to make them good as new.
By Sacha Markin
Put simply, a cornice is the decorative moulding between the ceiling and the top of a wall. It could be a basic strip of moulding or an elaborate detailed design, but it usually runs for several inches along the wall and across the ceiling.
Cornices were standard in most Victorian houses - decorative plaster cornice was often used to create the ceiling border or an ornate ceiling rose. The designs and styles varied considerably, from simple patterns to some more flamboyant creations, and quite often the more elaborate the design, the higher the 'status' of the room. This meant that a living or 'front' reception room would normally have plasterwork which was a lot more lavish than that featured in an upstairs bedroom.
After mass-produced reinforced fibrous-plaster mouldings were available, plasterwork became ever more ornate, because pre-fabricated mouldings were easily made and installed by every day tradesmen. Unfortunately, nowadays cornices and ceiling detail, such as roses, are not often found undamaged and in one piece, which is where the need for restoration comes in. Returning beautiful features such as these back to their original eye-catching state can make all the difference to a period property.
Restoring cornices and ceiling roses is extremely time-consuming and can be tricky for the novice, so depending on the level of work required, it can sometimes pay to call in the experts. So what is the level of work required? Firstly, establish the true state the cornices or ceiling roses are in. There may be pieces or sections completely missing, or it may have been painted over repeatedly throughout the years and is now sporting an inappropriate colour. Or perhaps it's merely chipped and needs some slight work, or it could be the entire design needs to be restored.
To initially clean the design, simply use lukewarm water, sugar soap and a soft sponge to carefully remove any dust, dirt or debris which has built up on it. Then it may be time for the old paint to come off, but if you're doing it yourself, be extra careful - you could actually remove detail from the plaster work as well.
But if you want to remove several decades' worth of paint from your cornices or ceiling roses and are happy to take on the job, look at using a specialist product such as Peel Away. Once you're wearing some suitable protective clothing, spread the paste onto the cornice and make sure it's totally covered. The next step is to place a special fibrous cover - which will come with the paste - over it. The paste will soak in and the paints will emulsify and be drawn back into the paste as it dries on to the cover. Once the cover and paste are gently peeled off, you may have removed countless layers of paint, but the original plaster cornice will remain. Remember to always wear goggles and gloves when using chemicals.
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