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Project of the Month – February 2020

Restoration of the original decoration of Holmwood House, using traditional decorating methods in a modern era.

Holmwood House is a family home like no other in Glasgow. 

Located in the Southside of the city, on Netherlee Rd, it’s masterfully designed, with grand imagination behind it. Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson designed the house for paper magnate at the time, Mr & Mrs James Couper in 1857–8, and it’s widely regarded as this Scottish architect’s finest domestic creation. His stunning design legacy impresses at every turn.

Thomson’s penchant for Grecian styling and symmetry is found throughout Holmwood, where the bold opulent decoration echoes the colours seen in ancient Greek temples.

The property has been in the possession of the National Trust for Scotland since 1994. It had been used as a convent for several years. Many hundreds of hours have been put into the research and fundraising has stretched as far as the National Trust for Scotland USA foundation.

The work at Holmwood House is part of an ongoing conservation project and there’s always something new for visitors to see.

The techniques and products used in this project are unusual, or even unique! Robert Howie & Son have lovingly restored this property using traditional decorating methods that would have been used, back in the 19th century.

Back then decorators were more technically challenged in their work, almost chemists. In the 19th century lime was mixed up in metal containers, pigments came in powder & natural form ale & eggs were also used in the composition of paint. In order to achieve the desired bespoke colour from a base oil paint, primary colours were used to match up those colours, Designs were created by marking out, drawing and cutting stencils via varnished card & applying the designs. These were then painted with glazes that were made up and applied altering the translucency. The plaster decoration was gilded with gold leaf using oil gold size. This is a huge contrast from today’s demands.

Modern decorating methods brought about many challenges that had to be met in this project. In order to meet conservation requirements, all the paints had to be oil based, so they are reversible, so they used the Little Green Paint Company’s flat oil paint 

Ian said, “There is very little choice in this market, as we don’t really use as much flat oil paint as we used too, due to our modern paints”. 

The paint was tinted on site, to replicate the old techniques, which then in turn was varnished with Blackfriars oil-based Matt varnish to replicate the same type of treatment that would have been originally carried out. 

Artist oil colours were used to control hue & depth & translucency in pigmented washes carried out as per the research reports.

Ian said, “Generally we have chosen these products due to the adaptability, drying times, finish, after some trials were carried out, regarding other products”.

The gold that was applied in the cupola, was oil gilded, 23.6 carat red Gold supplied by AS Handover.

There are exposed areas in the house for the public to view elements of the décor exposing original colours and designs, called conservation windows. Specialist conservators have carefully cleaned for reference and research to show the public how everything ties in.

Restoring a building of this nature is never going to be straight forward. Most of the problems came from expanding the designs from the sample area left by conservators. Some of these in the conservation windows were only inches wide and around the Cupola some were left totally covered up. 

The whole project was intended to be over 3 years but might be extended in to the 4th year due to the complexity of the decoration and the research involved in restoring this stunning building to its former glory.

The client’s representatives and staff have praised the work of the team and said, “They think Alexander Greek Thomson & James Couper would be looking down & be very proud of what we have achieved”.

This is obvious testament to all the hard work put in by the team. Ian said, this for him makes it all worthwhile, knowing he has achieved his brief in accomplishing what he was brought here to do.

The National Trust for Scotland opens the House to the Public, 1st of March 2020

Link on more information on  Alexander Greek Thomson including the connection with Charles Rennie Macintosh

https://www.scotsman.com/200voices/innovators/alexander-greek-thomson-forgotten-architect/

Robert Howie & Son est 1954, traditional Painters & Decorators was Established by 3 Bothers Robert Howie, Andrew Howie, William Howie.  Current Staff consists of Ian Howie (owner manager) who has 35 years’ experience and is of the second generation, Son Calvin Howie Foreman (3rd generation) and John Patterson, Brian Shields and their apprentice Sofia Lindsey.

The company have a relatively young team, with the two youngest members being 26 years old and a 19-year-old apprentice/. Ian is proud to be investing in putting traditional skills back into a younger generation

Robert Howie & Son’s extensively worked for the National Trust for Scotland since 1969 As well as Princes Foundation, Historic Scotland, BBC, plus many country Houses and Castle’s, and they also have many domestic clients.

www.roberthowieandson.co.uk

 

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