A room’s plaster mouldings might be seen as decorative details, but they are often aesthetic necessities, says interiors editor Jessica Doyle.
In the drawing room of a beautiful castle in the Scottish Highlands, there is an elegant coffered ceiling framed by a beaded plaster cornice that wraps around the top of the room. This ornate flourish is the icing on the cake of a layered, highly detailed space decorated by the interior designer Henriette Von Stockhausen of VSP Interiors (@vsp_interiors), who specialises in historic and period properties.
Plaster mouldings can indeed be seen as the aesthetic icing of an interior scheme, but, says Henriette, they also play an important role in bringing together style and structure – particularly in the large, high-ceilinged rooms found in historic properties.
Plasterwork took off in the UK around the 16th century as a means of decorating structural features, initially in churches and royal palaces and later in private homes. Corbels embellished wall brackets that supported structures above; architraves and chimneypieces decorated door and fire surrounds; and cornices and skirtings covered the untidy joins between the ceiling or floor and the walls – an especially useful device when wallpaper became fashionable in the 17th century.
Where mouldings have been removed or fallen into disrepair, restoring them is a useful way to bring character back into a room and vital for ensuring the style and proportions of the mouldings suit their location. ‘Each period has its own very definite measurements and styles, so it’s important to tell that story and get it absolutely right,’ says Henriette.
Earlier neoclassical plasterwork, for example, was inspired by architecture on the Continent, with a keen eye on the proportions and character of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders of Ancient Greece. As time went on, decorative application held sway over architectural considerations and designs became more light-hearted and ornate, as can be seen in Georgian, Regency, and Victorian examples.
Plaster specialists such as Stevensons of Norwich (@stevensonsofnorwich) create reproduction plaster-work for the restoration of historic buildings. Recent projects include the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane and The Newt hotel in Somerset, as well as classically inspired mouldings for private homes.
According to the company’s director, Edward Gates, contemporary interior design is seeing interesting developments in the application of mouldings: ‘More and more, we see people using traditional cornices, but offset from the ceiling and used as uplighters, inset with a run of LED lights,’ he says. ‘Ceiling roses have also been adapted to make them compatible with the ever more complicated and heavier light fixtures that people use today.’
Whether a room is traditional or modern in style, plasterwork brings character and gravitas to a space. ‘If you use plaster moulding correctly, then you can really add structure, detail, and something beautiful to a room that could otherwise be quite bland,’ says Henriette. ‘I love those features; they make a room that bit more special.’
More plaster experts
Farrs Limited (@limitedfarrs) has been crafting plaster mouldings for Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, and Derbyshire since 1885. They specialise in interior architecture like panel mouldings, cornicing and dado rails.
Alexander GriffinCambridge & Bath
Plaster-artist Alexander Griffin (@griff.plaster) makes breathtaking busts, bas reliefs, and other decorative pieces inspired by original Greco designs. His workshop is in Cambridgeshire, but you'll also find his designs in the treasure trove of Berdoulat in Bath.
Heritage Plaster Services
Experts in fibrous plastering, the Heritage Plaster Services (@heritageplasterservices) team has advanced their craft with modern innovations while staying true to artisanal methods. As well as residential projects, they've worked on some of the capital's most iconic buildings such as the Royal College of Music.
Adams Plaster MouldingsLiverpool
This sixth-generation family business has ceiling roses, cornicing and corbels for every residential need. Adams Plaster Mouldings (@adamsplastermouldings) is also a prolific name in the commercial space specialise in luxury retail.