Research by Museum and Heritage Studies student helps historic villa restorations

Wellington homeowners wanting to restore their historic villas say it’s hard to find information about appropriate interior and exterior mouldings.

In the summer of 2011/2012, Wellington City Council and Victoria University of Wellington funded a student on a Summer Research Scholarship to find out more about historical mouldings used in the city’s villas.

Architecture graduate Moira Smith spent the summer in the middle of her two-year Master’s of Museum and Heritage Studies working on the project, which was led by Christina Mackay from the School of Architecture.

Many of Wellington’s houses are villas that were built in the late 19th or early 20th century, when decorative mouldings such as skirting boards, architraves, picture rails and verandah trim were run out in huge quantities from rimu and kauri using the latest in steam-powered moulding machine technology. Moira says “even cornices, something that we now associate with fibrous plaster, were often built up from a kit of parts in timber.

Moira searched through archival material held by the Alexander Turnbull Library and interviewed conservation architects and modern-day moulding manufacturers. One of the best resources she came across was historic timber moulding catalogues containing drawings of a huge range of different mouldings and trim. She also visited 10 Wellington villas in which she described and measured the range of mouldings used.

Moira’s finished report details the history of mouldings used in Wellington.  It shows what mouldings were used when, and describes what they were made of and how they were made.

Modern-day manufacturers sell a range of ready-made mouldings for villa renovations but Moira says the range of products available today “is not really representative of what was available around the turn of the century. There was once a much greater variety of profiles, styles and timber species. Almost all of the trim that is available ‘off-the-shelf’ now seems to be very thin, small and simplified modern representations of one or two of the most popular mouldings.

The report, when it is made available by Wellington City Council, will allow homeowners to restore their decorative mouldings in styles that were in use around the turn of the century and will give joiners and other manufacturers accurate information for custom making a range of moulded timber products.

Moira says the historic mouldings used in Wellington villas were very intricate. “The detailing in some of these Victorian villas is very special.”