Restoration means attention to detail

Q: We would like to restore our recently purchased, turn-of-the-century home to something resembling its original Greek Revival design. The main problem is that most of the plaster moldings and other decorative elements have been destroyed over the years in the name of modernization. Can you suggest some affordable ways to refurbish the interior? We'll settle for a convincing imitation, since it's probably impossible to re-create the original look.

A: Entire volumes have been written on the subject of renovation and restoration, and you would be well advised to become acquainted with at least a few of them. I suggest that you first visit your local library to learn more about architectural history and to gather some detailed, practical information for your own project. You'll then have a sound basis for deciding what can be done within the limits of your budget.


In general, it's attention to detail that distinguishes any kind of period design. Careful consideration must be given to elements such as color, pattern and decorative accessories as well as to architectural motifs. In the case of a Greek Revival interior, research should be focused on moldings, friezes and borders, along with paint colors and application techniques, including textured finishes and stencil work.

Precise execution is essential in the sort of restoration you'll be undertaking. Keep in mind, therefore, that loving hands will not be an adequate substitute for expert workmanship.


Budget-conscious amateurs such as you will be pleased to know that there are perfectly acceptable alternatives to employing professional plasterers and painters. It's now possible to purchase pre-fab moldings and reproduction wallpapers that simulate the look of textured paint. And some of these products are strikingly similar to the real thing.

The photograph shows a paper-and-vinyl reproduction of a sculpted high-relief frieze in classical Greek style. Manufactured Crown Berger Ltd., of England, this embossed wall-covering, known as Anaglypta and Lincrusta, was being made at the time your home was constructed.

There's nothing fake about a product with such a fine pedigree. And because it has a solidity and flexibility similar to linoleum's, this trompe l'oeil fixture can be painted, glazed, stippled or even gilded.

The illustrated setting features a few other touches that you may wish to consider as well. Take note, for example, of the picture molding -- a functional as well as decorative element that was also commonly used at the turn of the century. This molding, usually placed below a decorative border or just beneath the ceiling line, allows pictures to be hung from cords and movable hooks. That leaves the actual wall surface unmarred while making periodic rearrangements of the paintings an easy task.

I wish you much luck with your endeavor. Whatever time and trouble may be involved, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you paid due respect to the work of a talented architect.