Thursday, 29 November 2012

Can you see what it is yet?

One of the many difficulties of presenting a historic building to the public is how to deal with the accessories and installations of modern heating, lighting, safety and security devices. These are invariably white and made from some clearly modern material -- not the easiest objects to blend in sympathetically with even a 19th century interior, much less a Renaissance one.

Central heating radiator painted to blend into oak panelling in the Chateau des Bretonnieres, Joué-les-Tours.

The usual curatorial device is to camouflage light switches, power points, smoke detectors and radiators with a trompe l'oeil paint job. It's fairly tacky if you look closely, but, especially for really anachronous things like smoke detectors, high up on the ceiling and painted to blend in with the surrounding decor, it works well enough. Of course, the bigger the object and the closer it is to eye level, the less pleasing the result.


  1. That is very good "feather" work on that radiator... me old Mum used to be a dab hand at that... and I used to watch, fascinated, as she did it... but we then moved into a "modern" house that didn't have any bits she could do it on.
    She was spot on at restoring china, too!

  2. That finish was used on doors as I remember as a lad...

  3. Seems like they could do something about that white valve knob.

  4. I'm impressed by the very substantial shutters, as also by the forethought and technical detail that ensures they fold neatly into the recess visible behind the offending radiator knob. I continue to be a little bit surprised that with all the emphasis on insulation and energy conservation, no modern version has been developed. Internal shutters do work as I know from previously having the good fortune to live in C17 house that had them.

  5. Tim: confidence with paint application is always fascinating to watch. One of the secrets of ceramics restoration is understanding that capilliary action will work for you.

    C&E: I always think of trompe l'oeil woodgrain as a very early 19thC device, with a bit of a revival in the early 20thC. Just how old are you?!

    Ken: I can think of two possible reasons it's been left white -- 1. it could be a recent replacement, or 2. it is used to make adjustments to the setting of the radiator, and therefore any paint job would very quickly look tatty because of the wear and tear.

    John: Our shutters in Rainham slotted in to a recess like these do -- it was an early 18thC house.

  6. Susan, as I grew up postwar, such woodgraining was very popular... apart from my mother, a lot of other friends houses had such self-decorated woodwork... I think some of it had to do with the post-war austerity and the want/need to make your house look nice... there were, and still are, a lot of wood[& mdf]strip mouldings available to 'shape' the hardboard-sheet flat doors.
    So I can understand where Colin is coming from.

  7. Me too.
    We lived in a 1920's semi when I was a little girl in the 50's and my parents did lots of woodgrain painting - doors, cupboards, pelmets. It was all the rage.

    The house had lots of lovely features of its age which were sacrificed to modernisation in the 60's and 70's such as panelled built-in cupboards either side of the fireplace, picture rails, brackets for the old gas lamps, and a cast iron bath with big knobbly taps. We were all glad to see the back of them at the time but now they are much sought after and the new owners are busy putting them back in! I wonder if they'll woodgrain anything?

  8. That's interesting -- I thought everyone went in for covering over panelled doors with hardboard and painting everything white post-WWII.

  9. Not really sure when the fashion for flush doors began in earnest for domestic use in England: our 1939 internal doors here were plywood covered from the start. It seems the joinery firm at that point simply met the demand by taking a standard panelled door and covering over both sides. I don't even know if hardboard was widely available then. But the result is thick but very soundproof doors.

    I do know that real panelled doors (as opposed to moulded hardboard) are now very expensive as my son will soon find out when he tries to source some for a small Victorian house.