Heritage facade restoration

Grade II listed buildings restored to former glory

Occupying the north west corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn is a seven-story brick-faced 17th century building and its adjoining stone fronted 18th century building, creating the home of a prestigious law firm.

The imposing and elegant frontages play a significant part of the Grade II listed buildings’ charm. Sorrel Group was asked to restore the facades to their former glory, a task that was challenging and required huge patience and attention to detail.

Unveiling the facades

Standing for more than 300 years, the brick building’s façade has fared the worst of the weather, pollution and more. Its central London location had resulted in extensive carbon damage from emissions, as well as many layers of paint, mildew, bird waste and general wear and tear. The frontages had not been repaired or cleaned since the 1970s and due to their listed status, there were limitations to what could be done.

Adam English, project manager at Sorrel Group, said: “Before work could begin, we did our research. Not only were we working with two listed buildings, they are each built from different materials.”

The Sorrel team examined the facades, the restrictions to each building and identified the right processes and materials to use to inject the fresh look the client wanted: “To clean the facade of a building may seem like a simple task but with buildings of this age, which have encountered extensive damage, it required a more delicate approach.”

Adam explains their process: “We created an irrigation system that ran across top of building. We used a diluted brickwork and stone cleaner, a soft solution that trickled down to preserve the brick and stonework. It was a slow but necessary method. With buildings like this it needs to be done properly.”

It took a month to deep clean the fronts of both buildings, so to minimise disruption the team kept a constant dialogue with the project manager and front of house staff, so they could feedback to the employees and visitors.

Following the cleaning of the facades came the repairs. “There was a lot of restoration work. The frontages were typical of the neo-classical era with bollard designs and over the years they had cracked and discoloured. To retain the authenticity of the buildings, we used traditional craftspeople and stone masonry methods. It required a lot of patience as much of the work needed to be done by hand,” Adam recalls.

Topping it off

The repairs extended to the roof. Constructed from traditional Welsh-slate tile, the work demanded a thorough search for reclaimed slate to preserve the character and history of the roof.

Adam said: “There were many trips to yards to find the best slate to replace broken tiles. It is so important to source the right materials and we are fastidious in ensuring this heritage is retained. Once we had found the right tiles, the skilled artisans got to work.

“We also restored the chimneys. Though they had been redundant since Victorian times, they were key to the aesthetic. We removed the mortar and realigned the bricks and chimney pots to restore the roof to its former glory.”

The finishing touches

The sash windows were in need of restoration. Over the years they had been repainted and some had been painted shut. The limestone sills had also built up years of dirt and grime.

Adam explains how they gave the windows a new lease of life: “Limestone is a delicate building material so to clean the sills they were hand brushed using a wire brush and a special chemical solution to prevent any damage.

“Underneath the layers of paint on the windows we unearthed rotten wood. Using a chemical compound, we were able to treat the wood which sets like glue, and once it had dried the windows were given a fresh coat of paint.”

The research Sorrel Group had done prior to starting the project discovered the grey gutters must be painted black. The team took the guttering back to its core colour and gave it a gloss finish.

“There are so many details to heritage buildings that must be preserved. That is why the finishing touches are as important as any other aspect of the project,” Adam explains. “For instance, the steps leading up to the main entrance are made from limestone, so these were also treated, which removed the green tinge. We also treated the wrought iron railings around the car park to avoid moisture getting in and causing them to rust.”

The result was a transformation to the facades of both buildings, re-establishing the charm and character and architectural details.

Trevor Cox, premises project manager for Farrer & Co recounts seeing the polished frontages: “Sorrel Group did a fantastic job of bringing the buildings back to life. We could not have just any old contractor to work on a building like this. It needs a contractor to understand listed buildings and Sorrel does.

“We were so pleased with the results that we had a party in the car park to celebrate!”

Sorrel Group continues to maintain the exterior of the buildings, which will preserve the renovation.

Reflecting on the project, Adam said: “Through pain-staking and meticulous artisan techniques and sympathetic deep cleaning we were able to restore this building back to its original atheistic. It takes patience to do things by hand, but the overall achievement is always worth it.”