Unveiling History Through Layers of Paint

As I stepped into this room, my eyes instinctively scanned its walls. As one whose professional life was rooted in heritage conservation, I  was drawn instinctively to the subtle clues that might be hidden beneath layers of paint over time. I knew the lilac emulsion that decorated the room in the 1970s was not the end of the story, only the beginning. 

There’s something inherently captivating about the process of peeling back the layers of paint. It’s like unwrapping a present from the past, a gift that reveals the history of a room, its occupants,  a glimpse into the lives that once occupied this amazing room, their tastes and aesthetics on display.   In a world where modernity often overshadows history, I am fascinated by what the materials and techniques used to create and object can tell us about the makers and how they worked. 

I approach this delicate detective work much like a puzzle, with each layer of paint representing a chapter in the room’s story. As I gently remove one layer after another, I begin to see patterns of colours and types of paints often very typical of the time. These varying colours and textures tell tales of different design trends, reflecting the evolving tastes of each era, as well as the social and economic status of previous owners. 

Ones eyes can tell a great deal, but I always return to reference books, filled with architectural details, interior designs, and historical contexts, in this case how rooms were decorated in the 18th c.  I cross-reference information, the material evidence, paint analysis and the historical narrative  to piece together the room’s history.

Campagna Conservation Project Peeling Layers of Paint
Campagna Conservation Project Completed Panel

Image Far Left: Peeling layers of history. Removing the 1970s lilac emulsion to reveal the story of many decorative schemes since the 18th c. Initially distemper was used, a chalk based paint, followed by a green oil, tinted with Prussian blue and chrome yellow. Chrome yellow was first available in 1806. Subsequent schemes were followed including a light grey likely to have been applied in the inter-War years.

Image Left: A completed panel. The top layer of emulsion removed. Some inpainting has been applied to integrate visually all the many tones to a uniform effect.

The very essence of my work mirrors the philosophy behind Campagna Collections, where every piece holds a history waiting to be unveiled.  The renovation process is akin to handling a complex work of art, an antique object,  one that carries with it the stories of those who made it, used, or displayed it. Each day presents a new revelation, a new layer to peel back, to learn. 

The process of decoding a room’s history requires patience, diligence, and a commitment to preserving the integrity of the past. One day, I tell myself, I will stand back and admire the room’s transformation – a testament  to the remarkable stories that have been hidden. Until then,  peeling back layers of paint and turning the pages of reference books, driven by the curiosity to understand and preserve the vibrant tapestry of history and to create a comfortable 21st century interior, reflecting the tastes and aesthetics of today. It will be a living space for fun, a room to enjoy as the families of the previous generations have over the last centuries.