Mansion's restoration elevated to a fine art; For the past year Compton Verney has been under wraps. Jo Ind reports on the painstaking process of transforming a country house into a state-of-the-art gallery.
It was nearly ten years ago that art collector Peter Moores bought the near-derelict Grade 1 18th-century mansion called Compton Verney. The mansion, in the village of Compton Verney, seven miles from Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, was designed by Robert Adam and is set in 40 acres of parkland created by Capability Brown.
Moores' vision was to restore the house and turn it into a gallery that presented art in an accessible way.
So far all is going to plan and Compton Verney is expected to open to the public in Easter of 2004. Meanwhile, the building project has presented particular challenges to the London-based architects, Stanton Williams, their Warwickshire partners, Rodney Melville and Partners, and the contractors, the Midlands-based LinfordGroup.
It is not just because of the scale of the project - which covers 4,600 square metres and is costing pounds 9 million - but because designing a modern art gallery that meets the best international museum standards within a Grade 1 listed building is a tall order.
A complex system of environmental controls is essential for the preservation of Compton Verney's own valuable art collection, and to protect any works of art loaned to the gallery for future temporary exhibitions.
Installing a specialist air-conditioning system is one essential requirement - but the conservation of the 18th-century fabric of the house means that installing huge air ducts is out of the question.
Instead, the architects have come up with a narrow-duct system which allows the air to be fed in and out of the building from the roof.
Compton Verney now also has 72 new sash windows, custom-made with special glass to reduce solar damage and deflect ultraviolet light.
Commissioning the new windows, which sit inside the original 18thand 19th-century fittings and shutters, also offered the opportunity to increase security.
Threading other services into the building has demanded another imaginative solution: the creation of a series of first-floor galleries which are 'rooms within rooms'.
Building new walls and ceilings inside the original structure leaves a gap between the two, just wide enough for feeding pipes and cables.
The structural work needed to strengthen the floors has involved inserting T-shaped metal flitch-beams inside the original five-metre oak joists.
Each flitch is tailor-made, since every old beam has warped slightly differently from its neighbour.
Inside the house, much of Robert Adam's old plasterwork is being restored.
Analysis of the old plaster showed that 'lime hair' plaster, reinforced with cattle hair - a traditional technique dating back to Roman times - was used for the original work in the 1760s.
The restorers have replicated the plaster and used it to mould new cornices.
At the same time, some of the badlyworn stonework is being restored and replaced.
All the repair work is done by skilled craftspeople, employing traditional skills and, as far as possible, matching the original materials.
One of the challenges has been obtaining the right stone for the repair work, since the Warwickshire sandstone Robert Adam used is no longer available. Replacement stone was eventually sourced from the Hollington Quarry in Staffordshire, which provides a very good match, geologically and in appearance.
Once the building work is completed at the end of February next year, the new gallery will be handed back for fitting out and testing ready for the following Easter.
Make a date now!
Main, the striking long sash windows at Compton Verney had to be replaced; clockwise from top, Peter Moores, who bought the mansion house ten years ago; a craftsman repoints a column; the Grade I listed house is under a swathe of scaffolding while it undergoes its transformation; plasterwork is restored using a traditional 'lime-hair' technique
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Oct 16, 2002|
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