Watching Plaster Dry (Again)


WordPress tells me I’ve used this post title before, which doesn’t really come as a surprise. It fairly sums up my life over the last few years. Lime plaster takes a long time to dry, at least a week between each coat and only then if the weather conditions are favourable. Four coats are needed on even the most straightforward of walls. And in some places it’s considerably more. We’re now into the cycle of gradually building up the layers. The builders come in for a day or two, the ‘cement’ mixer goes into overdrive, the walls get another centimetre or so thicker and the drying process starts all over again.

Cast your mind back to the beginning of all this and you may recall that two of the sitting room walls had a strange inward curve, possibly from the constant rubbing against them by animals if this room had indeed originally been used as a barn. We made the decision to retain the curves for posterity. But that didn’t mean we could just leave unstable plaster and in the centre section of this wall there was plenty of that. To fill deep hollows the builders resort to ‘pots’. Literally, pots.. broken up terracotta pots embedded into the plaster to give it more solidity where it needed to be thick. Terracotta is the ideal material because it absorbs moisture from the plaster and thus creates a stronger bond. Thankfully I didn’t need to sacrifice any of my own pots. Above, in a particularly large depression, the builders have used old clay rooftiles.



The beauty of lime plaster is that it can be used to sculpt pretty much any contour the heart desires. In some areas practicality has determined the way to go. There will be a tall vertical radiator at this end of the room. The plumbers have completed ‘first fix’, placing the pipes in the wall ready to receive it. The little two legged frame at the bottom is a temporary arrangement, it’s there to hold the pipes in position while work continues around them. And the section of tree trunk? Well that one baffled me too for a while.. it’s to stop the adjacent door being opened in a rush and crashing against the projecting pipes!

But there’s a problem. Although difficult to see from this angle, the wall slopes steeply backward from bottom to top. It would have meant having a hefty baton, some two to three inches deep, between the back of the radiator and the wall to keep the radiator aligned to the vertical. If only ever seen from the front it maybe wouldn’t have been so bad, but in this case the radiator is viewed in side profile from the main entry into the room. Sloping the radiator back against the wall was the alternative solution but, in my mind at least, that would look even worse.



What we’ve done instead is to build out the wall. Call for more pots.. !

It isn’t finished yet either. When it is done the top coat of plaster will surround the white baton near the top of the wall leaving just an inch of it proud. The radiator brackets will be fixed to that. It has mitigated the problem rather than eliminated it, but the radiator will sit vertical and its fixings shouldn’t appear quite so obvious to anyone entering the room.



When the old carpet was pulled back at the start of the job (it feels like years ago now) we found a strip of concrete in the floor against this wall. There’s no clear indication as to why. But given that the plan is to restore the floor the concrete had to go. Hacking it all out took a couple of days and it reveals the structure typical of buildings of this age. There are no foundations, much less a damp proof course, the stones that make up the lower portions of each wall and the floor itself were laid directly onto bare earth.



The challenge now of course was to source more of the old bricks. Nothing is ever straightforward when you can’t just go down to the hardware store for the materials you need. The first bit was easy enough. A path in the garden gave up the first 100, perfectly aged and weathered! Mike lifted and carefully cleaned each brick and relaid the path with paving slabs and gravel. But that still left us short. Many years ago our neighbour had given us the name of someone who used to have some and by sheer good fortune, yes, he still did. Mike spent a morning clambering over the pile of bricks in the corner of the farmer’s yard, selecting another 100 of the best. Enough to complete our job with a few in reserve.