Saturday, 18 April 2020


I have been super good at saving existing building fabric at Balintore. It makes the restoration more difficult and more expensive, but anything that has survived at Balintore is nothing short of a minor miracle to me and why on earth would I rip it out? This would be to fall just before the final hurdle, so to speak.

We patch into old lath-and-plaster walls with new plasterboard rather than strip off the old plaster and start again. I obtained listed building consent to use plasterboard from Angus Council, who in turn consulted with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) on the matter.

I instructed my builders that it would be legitimate to chop a straight edge in the old plaster, to make a clean join at the expense of saving every little last bit of sound old plaster. However, for once Gregor was even more zealous than myself. Observe the dilettante patching-in at the bottom left of the image below. :-) This is the housekeeper's room in the basement which are currently working on. The door leads down to the linen store, which the housekeeper supervised. The layout is oddly split-level as there is a short run of steps hidden beneath the protective Oriented Strand Board (OSB) sheeting we have put over the floor.

patching in old plaster with new plasterboard

Greg completed the plastering of the housekeeper's room on Friday. Here is panorama of the recently plastered wall, I took today (Saturday). Greg was panicking on Thursday as the high suction from the sections of Victorian lime plaster had made fine crack lines appear in the final skim coat. However, as we had PVA-ed all surfaces thoroughly and to my eye the skim coat had indeed firmly adhered, so there was no chance that it would crack off. I suggested a second skim coat would be subject to less suction, and would probably go on without cracking. Thankfully, Friday proved this to be the case.

housekeeper's room with final skim coat of plaster

We also started patching in wooden mouldings in the entrance hall on Friday. In the image below, you can see the original skirting moulding on the left, and the new skirting moulding on the right. We made an exact copy of the original profile. You may not believe this, but the original moulding is cast concrete painted to look like oak! When we were making the new skirtings it was actually cheaper to make them in genuine oak. Nowadays, the cost is in the labour not the materials. There was an incremental cost of a few hundred pounds to use oak instead instead of pine so it was a no brainer. The labour costs in casting concrete would have been phenomenal! Of course, by not stripping out the old concrete, we have the challenge of re-painting it to look like oak. The technique is called "graining" and it is carried out by using two shades of brown paint - a light and a dark - and by using special metal graining combs. I obtained a set of graining combs on eBay for £10. I am not sure I am up to the challenge. However, even painting the concrete a mid-brown would probably make it blend in acceptably, and having the original skirtings to me is far more important than decorative perfection.

patching in modern stained oak skirting to old painted concrete skirting

Gregor did not want the new oak mouldings stained as modern practice and modern aesthetics is to leave the natural pale wood colour. He told me it would be sacrilegious! Call me a Victorian aesthete, if you like, but I infinitely prefer my oak to be a mid to dark brown, however artificial this is. Luckily, there was no way the natural oak colour would have blended in with the existing oak or existing colour scheme. We held the pallid oak in place and it looked wrong, wrong, wrong.

This does not mean that staining the oak the correct shade of brown was easy. There are three "oaks" in the castle: the concrete painted to look like oak; the pitch pine painted to look like oak; and the genuine oak. The  painted pitch pine had got lighter over the last 150 years (paint does that) while the genuine oak had darkened with age. Originally, everything would presumably have been the same shade. So we basically had to stain the oak until it fitted in best when we held it in the different contexts i.e. a compromise exercise.

There is, in fact, a large quality of oak mouldings to be added to the entrance hall including door surrounds and arch surrounds not just skirting board. You can see the new footing for an archway moulding in the image below. The arch vaults over the stairs which lead to the great hall. With the layout of this arch moulding, there was more guesswork than with the skirtings as this part of the castle had been open to the sky and nothing had survived. In fact, even the presence of this moulding was guesswork. Actually, I should probably use the term "working out" rather than guesswork, as there must have been a moulding here and it would undoubtedly have been the same moulding that went round the doors, some of which has survived.

new skirting and new arch footer block in entrance hall

So there was a little bit of "give and take" between Gregor and myself as we figured out how the mouldings would have originally sat and joined up. In most cases, it was clear but in cases where there was doubt - one had to rely on personal aesthetics as to what looked best. There was a little difference between Gregor and myself here, but we got to a working solution. It is impossible that we could have reconstructed the woodwork exactly as it was, but I suspect we are very, very close. This is one reason, I have wanted to find interior photographs of the castle. Thankfully, very little of the castle was totally open to the elements, and fragments of mouldings have survived elsewhere all over the place.

I will write more blog entries as the rest of the new mouldings get installed.

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