Plaster Problems: Restoring Original Mouldings

For many of us when we step through the double front doors of a historic Brooklyn brownstone we feel a rush of excitement to see the charm and character of original features. The high ceilings and tall doors, the grand banister and woodwork, the huge windows with wooden shutters, and of course the sometimes ornate plaster mouldings. One of the things that attracted us to our place the most is that we have really nice original plaster mouldings throughout a lot of our brownstone. They aren’t overly ornate, but they gave us that feeling of something that is special. The parlor level is especially nice. There’s a crown moulding on the wall and ceiling with a cove. There’s also a ceiling picture frame in the living room. The plaster isn’t in an amazing shape, you can see where it has been repaired over the years. Our contractor suggested that we should just rip out all of the ceilings out and replace it all with new crown moulding. We appreciate the suggestion as it solves some problems, but we just think it would be too sad to lose all of the history and character in favor or sharp new mouldings that can be found in a new construction condo.

When we were looking for our place we also stopped by to see a few developer renovated buildings. They are beautiful, but most of the original features are removed in favor a modern open space. The main wall that separates the foyer stairwell and the living area is typically gone. All of the ceilings are new. Fresh new mouldings are up with recessed lighting and central air & heat. It looks great and sometimes it’s done very well, but we want our place to look like a 18th century brownstone as much as possible. So we are going to pass on the recessed lighting and central air in favor of our original mouldings and 18th century character!

Our mouldings won’t be perfect. They have been painted many times and there are a few spots where you can see that it has been repaired. There are also several places where we need to restore them as we reconfigure a few spaces. It’s not something that we have done in the past and it was really interesting learning about the process. We have about a 12 foot section that needs to be restored in our living room, about 8 feet in the kitchen, and about 10 feet in our master bedroom. We looked into matching with new moulding, but we decided that the new moulding would be too much of a contrast to the old. We also looked into fabricating a replication and having our contractor install and plaster, but we were worried what the finished product, especially the cove, would look with having a different moulding fabricator than the installer.

Finally our friend Jason from Urban Plaster stopped by to take a look at our place. He is able to take moulds, fabricate the mouldings in a way that they will resemble the old ones (less definition to account for the many layers of paint). He will finish the plaster work, restore the cove, and blend the new sections in with the old to get the best finished look possible. Our mouldings are not especially ornate, and Jason often does much more intricate work, but it still an expensive part of the project. We’re expecting to pay $5,000-$8,000 for all of our plaster work (depending on the extent). This is not in our original budget, but we decided that it’s just too important to finishing the project that it’s worth the extra expense.

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