Archive for July, 2009


The last week of my internship was all about pointing. I mentioned earlier in the internship that I wanted to do more pointing. Careful what you wish for! Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it, but the perfectionist side of me reared its ugly head once again. So I had to squash it once again!

I spent half of my time pointing the Study and the rest of the time pointing the vestibule between the Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen, as well as the remaining Kitchen pieces and finally the Staff Office. The Study was the only room with the ornate, heavy cornice. The other rooms had a simpler cove cornice.

Pointing the Study presented several welcomed challenges. The first was replacing several of the acanthus leaf lobes that were broken off during installation. This required cutting a set of decent lobes from a scrap piece of cornice and plastering them into place. It was fun watching a broken piece become one again.

The other challenge was found in the mitre joints where the two walls merged together. A bit a creative license was used in order to create a believable joint. For example, portions of two eggs in the egg-and-dart ornamentation were removed and replaced by a much thinner egg that I built up between the neighboring darts. Leaf details were shortened and/or extended to create a seamless transition.

The challenge with the cove cornice found in the other rooms was found by the size of my hands and less by the shape of the cove. Interior mitre joints were initially difficult because I had to find comfortable ways of applying and removing material. But once I discovered the right technique and hand movement, the job became easier and more manageable.


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This week was all about installing a piece of trim beneath the cornice we previously installed in the Dining Room.

Weeks before when we were creating the mould for the cornice, we had to eliminate a portion of it. The portion was this small, lamb’s tongue trim. Turns out that while the heavy cornice was essentially the same in the Hallway, Dining Room, Study and Salon, only the Dining Room had the lamb’s tongue trim in plaster. All the other rooms had the trim in wood. I guess this is because the Dining Room is the only room not completely engulfed in oak. Really, I’ve never seen a house with so much wood.

The good thing about installing this trim was that it covered the imperfections and more obvious joints seen in the large portion of the cornice. Due to the weight of the trim, only one person was needed to install it. Ramon was instructed to install the door casements while I installed this trim. It wasn’t a difficult task, but one that I wanted to do differently.

After installing each piece, I noticed that it did not lie completely flush with the larger piece above it. This was because of the fluctuations and imperfections in the walls and ceiling, as well as those found in the cornice itself. Small voids could be seen in between the trim and the cornice and this did not settle well with me. This is where I encountered trouble because I wanted to fill these voids. This task was just too time consuming and we needed to move on, so I left the voids showing.

“No one will see that, but you.” Truly, from the ground, one cannot see these voids, but the perfectionist side of me was screaming. This was a good lesson in facing that side of myself and letting it go. This was extremely difficult.

A small delay on the creation of additional pieces forced me into the Study where I began pointing. Once the pieces did arive and after a fair amount of pointing and finishing, the trim in the Dining Room was installed and it looks great.

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The last days of June and the beginning ones of July were spent installing the cornice in the Kitchen. Although it was a much lighter, simpler piece, it still presented its own challenges.

First, each of these pieces was completely dry, unlike the heavier cornices we installed in the Dining Room and Hallway. This made the pieces lighter, but much more rigid and less willing to bend with the imperfections found in the ceiling and walls. The strike-offs, or the areas of the piece that touch the walls and ceiling, had quite a few imperfections themselves which made shaving and form-fitting the pieces a time consuming task. If a lump of plaster was left by the caster, it rubs against the wall and/or ceiling and create a large void unless shaved. By shaving them, we eliminated the void. We kept telling ourselves, “if only the pieces were straight and the walls straight, we’d be done by now.”

Second, although the room was essentially rectangular, it had many returns which involved more measurements and cuts. These returns were created by cabinets that pushed out from the wall. Each return had at least one interior and one exterior angle. One particular area of the wall had a series of consecutive small returns less than an inch long. Not only does this involve time in measuring and cutting, but it makes the task of pointing that much more difficult. I pointed at least two or three of each interior and exterior angles, but the majority of the pointing was done by fellow plasterers Jose and Borjo. This was because we needed to spend the rest of the week installing the cornice in the Study.

The Study was a lot like the Hallway project, but again, we were presented with a unique challenge—a set of bookshelves that pushed away from the wall. This forced us to reach over the bookshelves when installing. It wasn’t difficult, but just awkward. Nonetheless, we installed twelve of the pieces and completed the room by Friday. I thank Ramon for working on Friday, July 3 while I spent much needed time with my pregnant wife whom I haven’t seen in over seven weeks.

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