Ornamental plaster restoration for London’s BAFTA building


Experience, patience and creativity are everything when it comes to ornamental plaster restoration for culturally significant buildings, no more so than removing original plaster and discovering how it was put together.


An important listed building needs a strategic approach and gentle handling

Fine Art Mouldings was commissioned to restore the fibrous plasterwork in the roof lights of the iconic Grade II listed BAFTA building in London, originally built in 1883 to house the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The architect proposed creating a new top floor that reintegrated the two large Victorian roof light spaces, raising the historic decorative plasterwork three metres and enclosing the space with innovative high-performance liquid-crystal glazing, giving spectacular views over the area.

Our team started the ornamental plaster restoration by removing the existing plaster, carefully removing the historic finishes to the roof light structure and learning along the way how they were constructed after only very limited investigations allowed prior commencement of to the works.

As Samuel Barry said, “It’s a bit like archeology, though on a live building, as the roof lights had been hidden for over 50 years. Finding out how they were put together and piecing together their history – as well as finding the occasional old artefact – was pretty exciting.”


Surveying the existing decorative plaster

Each roof light was made of different materials that were in different states of disrepair. We initially thought the decoration was made of fibrous plasterwork, but soon discovered that the oldest parts were made from painted cast iron and timber, which was much stronger than the plaster and in better condition. It suggested that at some point, possibly during the late 1800s, there was a fire requiring extensive repairs to the roof lights, which adds to the story of the building.

Much of the decorative plaster was held together with hessian, but over the years the delicate organic material succumbed to damage. The plaster had also been exposed to water, encouraging mould to grow. It was quickly disintegrating and crumbling to dust, making the ornamental plaster restoration even more important and urgent.

As we assessed the condition of the various elements and materials, we took plaster moulds of the enrichment details to remake each section if needed. We then carefully removed the historic plasterwork, labelling even the smallest piece and marking everything on a plan.


Taking down the ornamental plaster was a complex process. In the 1880s, installers put the plaster together like a puzzle, covering joints behind the plaster mouldings, layer by layer, so our archaeological skills came into play. Once all the pieces were relayed to our workshop, analysis of the condition of the fragments began to assess how much of the original fabric could be preserved, and the next stage in the process started.

And while crafting plasterwork may be the focus in everyone’s mind of what we do, our plaster removal experts perform a crucial role in conservation of historic plaster, exploring how it is made and fitted together, and giving the team direction in recreating complementary components.

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