Finishes Investigation

Decorative finishes contribute to the overall significance of a historic building. Traditional painting motifs, particularly in highly decorated interiors, were intended to respond to and harmonize with the overall architectural proportions, spaces, shapes and shadows created by three-dimensional ornament. Finishes investigations are crucial in identifying original color palettes and decorative schemes, such as the use of glazing, stenciling, gilding, trompe l’oeil, and figurative painting.

Investigations examine two types of evidence:

  • Archival records, such as historical photographs, architectural drawings and specifications
  • Firsthand descriptions, in addition to physical evidence presented on architectural surfaces

Guided by archival evidence, conservators undertake physical investigations that include exploratory reveals of original surfaces and colors, also known as exposure windows, as well as the collection of samples for laboratory analysis. Our in-house capabilities include visual microscopy to identify original paint layers and colors. We also partner with independent laboratories and conservation scientists who conduct instrumental analysis on samples to further understand paint and coating materials. Findings are presented in professional reports with photographs and illustrations that inform the design process.

Our technical investigative expertise is amplified by the skills of our decorative finishers and studio painters, who utilize their training in traditional techniques and materials to bring the investigation findings to life. Their artistic training and artisanal knowledge enable them to create a range of designs, from faithful restoration and replication of original decorative schemes, to simplified and modern motifs that honor the historical sense of visual balance and harmony.