Conserving one of the world’s most famous architect’s ceilings

2nd October 2017

One of the finest surviving Robert Adam ceilings has been restored by Cliveden Conservation at the National Trust’s Saltram House in Devon. This long-awaited project commenced as the result of an ongoing fundraising campaign to conserve the Neo-classical Saloon which was designed by Robert Adam in 1768.

The Saloon at Saltram is one of the most important parts of the estate’s history and features a 46-foot-long Axminster carpet designed by Robert Adam to echo his design for the ceiling. Both the carpet and ceiling have been expertly restored thanks to funding from the Wolfson Foundation and National Trust members.

Restoration work to the ceiling has been carried out by Cliveden Conservation Plaster Section who carefully repaired the ceiling using expert craftsmanship and conservation skills. The delicate operation involved cleaning all the painted decoration and fixing any lifting paint as well as securing loose finish coat plaster and ornamental plaster decoration.

Using their expertise, the conservation team fixed the ceiling plaster from behind where the laths supporting it had been structurally compromised by deathwatch beetle attack. Areas of lost paint and plaster have been retouched using paint to match the original ceiling design.

Douglas Carpenter, Senior Conservator at Cliveden Conservation, comments on the works being carried out:

“It is a real honour to work on such a magnificent ceiling. The quality of the plasterwork is such that up until now it has required little attention. Now it has been cleaned and repaired the ceiling is as vibrant as when it was first created.”

For 60 years the National Trust has cared for Saltram House and welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to see its splendid Georgian architecture and the surrounding 180 hectares of Grade II listed parkland.

Jez McDermott, the National Trust’s General Manager at Saltram, said: “We’re committed to conserving and caring for Saltram forever and for everyone. The ceiling is one of Robert Adam’s finest pieces of work and the design is mirrored into arguably the most important carpet in the National Trust’s care. Separately they are fantastic pieces of craftsmanship and design, but together they are a simply magnificent pair.

The work being carried out is fascinating and is just a once in a lifetime opportunity to get so close to the ceiling than we have ever been able to before. If we want everyone to enjoy this special place then we need to address the inevitable wear and tear and make Saltram fit for the future and for future generations.”

The National Trust will continue to seek further funding to help finish the work that needs to be carried out before the room can be open fully once more to visitors.