Love it or list it - Ornamental plasterwork

Recently we were asked by the ' love it or list it ' team, to carry out some rather tricky ornamental plaster work, in a house in Toronto. Of course we were very excited about the opportunity and the chance to show just a small amount of the work we actually do. At this point we have been asked not to upload any photos from the installation, understandably because this particular episode does not air until January sometime. However, in the meantime we can talk a little about what we did.

The area of repair was a crown molding running around the tops of the walls that was original to the property, and that had unfortunately seen some rather extensive water damage in the past. The construction of the walls themselves were wooden lath and lime based plaster containing animal hair of some kind. This would generally be applied in 3 coat work, although we have found on many occasion that here in Canada its sometimes done in 2. 

The crown molding on a wall was created in a way known as ' running in situ '. This essentially meant that rather than the more modern 'bench making' approach, where the crown is created on a bench and then affixed into place using some plaster and sometimes screws, the crown was created in place, at the top of the interior walls. This was done by using a 'horse' or 'running mould' which slides up and down 'rails' or 'binaries' to gradually create the desired profile. The running moulds (shown below) were generally constructed of wood and had a thin layer of zinc (G) into which the profile was cut.

Because zinc is soft in nature it allowed for easily cutting and filing to create the profile. Two rails were set out, one on the wall and one the ceiling. These allowed the running mould to run horizontally without any interruption and to give as true a line as possible. In between moving the running mould left to right, different material were applied depending on what stage of the application was being done ( core coat, putty coat and so on). This slowly gave shape and strength to the crown and defined the profile, until a final layer of lime putty was laid down.

The description I have given is a very basic breakdown of the process, which has been modified and changed throughout the globe, whether its the material, the tools or the process the results are almost always spectacular. 

Going back to the specific application for the 'love it or list it' team, unfortunately we could not use either the 'run in situ' method or the 'bench made' due to the nature of the walls and the space itself. The method we used was to run a thin, straight edge piece of timber slowly left to right along the existing profile, cutting into our new material to build up the shape and look of the original crown. There was also a fair amount of fine detail work with mitre blades. We used 5yr aged lime putty, sand aggregate and animal hair...in this instance 'goat'. This particular process takes time and can be tedious to some but as you will see on the show it can give great results and is as traditional as the material itself.