The art of ageing gracefully

Along with the spectacular Roman ruins, Bath is renowned for the glorious golden hues of its Georgian stone buildings. But preserving the precious heritage takes time and money. Hester Lacey hunts down some of the experts in the field
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The Independent Online

Bath is one of the most beautiful and architecturally significant cities in the world. It's official; in 1987, the city became a World Heritage Site. Bath's highlights are split between the Roman and Georgian eras. The extensive remains of the Roman public baths and the Temple of Minerva are complete, down to the original Roman graffiti. And the 18th-century urban landscape is well-preserved too, in landmarks like the Circus, the Guildhall, the Assembly Rooms and Pulteney Bridge. It's unlikely you'll be looking to purchase a Roman relic, but there are fine examples of Georgian homes to buy and rent, especially in the centre of the city.

Bath is one of the most beautiful and architecturally significant cities in the world. It's official; in 1987, the city became a World Heritage Site. Bath's highlights are split between the Roman and Georgian eras. The extensive remains of the Roman public baths and the Temple of Minerva are complete, down to the original Roman graffiti. And the 18th-century urban landscape is well-preserved too, in landmarks like the Circus, the Guildhall, the Assembly Rooms and Pulteney Bridge. It's unlikely you'll be looking to purchase a Roman relic, but there are fine examples of Georgian homes to buy and rent, especially in the centre of the city.

FPDSavills (01225 474500, www.fpd savills.co.uk) has just launched a bespoke town market service from its Bath office. According to Jason Corbett, who is heading the department, property values for Bath city and its suburbs cover "a tremendous range". They vary from £120,000 to £200,000 for a one-bedroom flat and £450,000 to £1.5m for a five-bedroom house. Unsurprisingly, the greatest demand from buyers is for property in Georgian buildings. Limited supply means frustrated buyers are also chasing more modern properties, particularly those with dedicated parking that are near good schools.

Take on a beautiful old Georgian building, however, and your investment doesn't end with the purchase price of your home. Planning and conservation regulations aside, you will need to be prepared to put in some effort and cash to preserve the character of your property.

Sash windows

The basic design principle of the sash window is simple, effective and has changed very little over the years. The classic "six over six" set of panes is typical of 18th-century properties. The original sashes in a Georgian property should still be working perfectly. Sash windows, properly looked after, will last for centuries. But neglect means replacement or renovation is often necessary. In conservation areas or for listed buildings, window frames often may be replaced with timber only; UPVC is a definite no-no. Traditional joinery craftsmen are able to re-create the correct Georgian feel.

The Devoran Joinery Company has won the National Carpenter's Award for its work in high-quality bespoke joinery and specialises in period buildings; its products are regularly specified by the National Trust. Current building regulations state that all new or replacement windows, including sashes, have to be double-glazed, except in listed buildings. Some manufacturers, including the Original Box Sash Window Company, are able to fit slim and discreet sealed units into traditionally hand-made window frames. If you're really lucky, you might still have the original shutters that were a feature of Georgian windows, or a door with filigree fanlights. The Georgian Group can offer general advice on looking after Georgian buildings.

Devoran Joinery Company: 01872 863376; www.heritagejoinery.co.uk.

The Georgian Group: 020-7529 8920; www.georgiangroup.org.uk.

The Original Box Sash Window Co: 01753 858196; www.boxsash.com.

Plasterwork

No well-to-do Georgian householder would have considered their living rooms complete without ornate plasterwork decoration. Cornice design often featured intricate mouldings of scrolls, leaves or rosettes, and these could be subtly reflected in details on skirting boards and door frames. Often the fine detail of cornice mouldings has been blurred under layers of heavy modern paint, and stripping these off can be a tricky business. Powerful paint strippers can dissolve the cornice along with the paint. Gaps can also be difficult to fix, though specialists such as Hayles and Howe or Trumpers can craft new sections to match the original style. This kind of expertise doesn't come cheap. Most reputable plastering companies are members of the Federation of Plastering and Dry Wall Contractors. If you plan to attempt the job yourself, check with the local authority first, because there may be regulations that specify the replacement of like-with-like materials. If your room is panelled, the cornice should match the walls, but if the walls are painted, the cornice should match the ceiling.

Hayles and Howe: 0117 924 6673; www.haylesandhowe.com

Trumpers Ltd: 0121 202 5383.

Federation of Plastering and Dry Wall Contractors: 020-7608 5092, www.fpdc.org

Paint

Georgian style became lighter and brighter, simpler and more elegant, as the period progressed. Earlier colour schemes included burgundy, sage green and blue-grey, in sheened finishes similar to today's eggshell paints. Then came pea-green, sky-blue, soft greys, pinks, beiges and stone shades, in matt finishes. Many paint manufacturers have successfully re-created the Georgian palette. Farrow and Ball is Britain's largest independent paint maker and still makes paints by traditional methods. The range includes the soft distemper that Georgian painters would have used on fine plasterwork, which allows the fabric to breathe and doesn't clog intricate mouldings.

Modern paint is also available in Georgian-style shades. Crown Trade paints has created a range of palettes, including a Regency selection, from the original sketches of the Royal Institute of British Architects Library Drawing Collection. Dulux Heritage paints also has a Georgian range, in emulsions, eggshell or external finishes. John Oliver often provides period styling hints for film and TV companies, and can match almost any colour individually; his company has an extensive collection of historical colour books. For independent advice on paints and finishes, visit the Paint Quality Institute website.

Crown RIBA Collection: 0870 2416457, www.historic-colours.co.uk.

Farrow & Ball: 01202 876141, www.farrow-ball.com.

John S Oliver: 020-7221 6466, www.johnoliver.co.uk.

www.paintquality.co.uk.

Fabrics and wallpaper

Georgian wallpaper was often imported from the Far East, and Chinoiserie has enjoyed a recent vogue, so there are plenty of examples around, from specialist suppliers like the de Gournay company. "When Chinoiserie papers were first imported in the 18th century, these exotic glimpses of a distant land were an escape from the every-day," says de Gournay's creative director Tim Butcher. Towards the end of the Georgian era, simple block papers were introduced, featuring geometric patterns with squares and stripes.

Industrial advances meant cottons and linens could be manufactured efficiently and cheaply, putting printed chintz and calico within everyone's reach. Sprigged, glazed cotton fabric was used for upholstery and curtains, bed hangings and loose covers. Toile de Jouy, originally from France, was especially popular, with its story displays on a monochrome of blue, purple, red or sepia on white. Modern variations are available from companies like Colefax and Fowler, while Bricks and Brass provides a directory of suppliers of all kinds of period fixtures and fittings.

Bricks and Brass: 020-8290 1488; www. bricksandbrass.co.uk. Colefax and Fowler: 020-8877 6400. De Gournay:

020-7823 7316, www.degournay.com.

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