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Holcombe Folly Painswick redecoration

Listed under Blog, Painting, preparation Posted Oct 01 2008

The biggest project I ever undertook was the redecoration of Holcombe Folly, Painswick, Glos. In 1998, 5 decorators toiled for 8 weeks solid, with a 2 or 3-man crew practically in residence for months afterwards.

The predicament when redecorating Holcombe Folly

When working out how to redecorate the property, there were several issues to balance.

  • The rambling Cotswold mansion had been left empty for months, so damp was a consideration.
  • Most of the lathe and plaster walls and ceilings were still intact, but there were acres of deteriorating lime wash surfaces. Point a finger and there was crazing and cracking and broken patches everywhere.
  • The client had made it clear he wanted the walls to look brand new without ripping out the old plaster.
  • The designer, Stephen Bate of Vinycomb Bate, specified Farrow and Ball paints. They carried traditional products but the call was for modern formulations.

How to square those circles?

The solution for lime wash

It was imperative to ensure a reliable foundation to work from. We started from the top of the house, stripping off the lime wash with artex as we went. You apply a thick layer, wait for it to almost dry, then scrape it off like big scabs. It reveals the bare plaster and after a thorough wash and rinse, it is sealer time. The method works really well, especially if the floor is covered in plastic sheets. Wrap up the debris and throw it into a skip.

Unfortunately there were no skips allowed on this site, so the muck ended up in the back of my van en route to the tip.

Restoring the plaster

In a faithful restoration, distemper would have been a great option for the walls and ceilings, especially as it is suitable for dampish conditions. However the spec called for a more modern paint finish. Fortunately the builders had made the property water tight and the house was drying well by the time they let us loose on it.

In this case, my preferred sealer for dodgy surfaces is alkali-resistant oil primer. It provides a perfect base for filling and over-painting. Interestingly, its best property is its inability to cope with existing damp. It stains immediately in the presence of water, highlighting issues before work gets too advanced.

Once sealed, we then skimmed all surfaces with artex and sanded it down smooth. If you say it quickly, it doesn’t sound much work, but the skimming stage was the most labour-intensive part of the job. (Update: this was before dustless sanding!)


Next stage, we sized or sealed the surface with Beeline sealer, before cross-lining everything. We used wallpaper pasting machines and trestles, and the team were hanging dozens of rolls a day.

wallpaper pasting machine Beeline at Holcombe Folly Painswick

Apologies to the environment, but back then, 1000 grade virgin pulp lining paper was by far a better product than the recycled stuff available. I have since grown used to recycled lining paper. Also I planted a walnut tree to redress the balance in the environment, lessons slowly learnt.

Farrow and Balls up

I had a bee in my bonnet about avoiding all water-based products wherever possible. For walls and ceilings we used Farrow and Ball’s flat oil finish. I made an expensive discovery about how to achieve a flawless finish using flat oil over lining paper.

Initially I had misread the spec and allowed for 2 coats only, but as our Quality Control guy commented, it looked crap! We needed a sealer. Fortunately the local council were selling Permoglaze undercoat at cost price. My get-out-of-jail card cost us a couple of days and a couple of hundred. Once sealed we then filled every joint with filler. When dry we sanded the whole surface smooth and re-undercoated the joints. That was the perfect base for 2 coats of Farrow and Ball flat oil.

Conclusion of work on Holcombe Folly Painswick

The results of this monumental spec looked fantastic, and as far as I am aware, stood the test of time. The joints in the lining paper were solid which was a relief. Up till then we had struggled with fillers but a harder filler worked well. This became our standard treatment for old plaster surfaces and earned us the on-site title of Decorators, rather than painters!


This job was undertaken in 1998. I have questioned the way I would deal with that job again. There is a case for a couple of alternative methods.

Alternative to lining paper

If the filling on the walls and ceilings was done well, (which it was), then maybe lining paper was an unnecessary stage? Tom, a traditional painter in Brighton brought this question up.

I think the choice of preparation is based on a balance of aesthetics, practicalities and clients’ expectations. If the plaster is solid but dinged and crazed, then filling and painting would be very acceptable to most. Where expectations are for nothing less than perfect, re-plastering every surface is the only option. For clients who want a great finish without the expense of plastering, lining paper is the way to go. Obviously, if the plaster is flapping, you have to make a judgement call. Decisions decisions!

Alternative to lime-washed walls.

To deal with lime wash without removing it, we could have used Classidur. This Swiss wonder product can be applied straight over chalky surfaces, suggested Richard Ireland. To achieve traditional designer colours, Papers-Paints in Chelsea could have been tinted the Classidur perfectly. Again, you have to weigh up the pros and cons of painting over old lime wash, stripping back to the bare plaster or Plan C.

Filling joints in lining paper?

I don’t fill joints in lining paper any more, what were we thinking?! For years now, the aim has been to achieve nice butted joints with a tiny gap which the paint fills, leaving a flat finish.

Overall, I am quite happy with the approach we took back then, but I am glad to be continually revising ideas and learning from other consummate professionals

Apologies for lack of photos, a digital camera was a long way off my radar back then. But if anyone has pictures of Holcombe Folly Painswick I would love to see them.

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One comment to “Holcombe Folly Painswick redecoration”

  1. Adrian J

    Sounds like you had quite some fun on that job, Andy!
    Reminds me of one that I worked on back in 1982/3! only difference this was 44 bedrooms big!

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