Owning a listed building has its challenges — but there are also unexpected surprises. One such delight presented itself to us on a recent long weekend. We had set ourselves the challenge of redecorating our front door, which felt like an achievable task.

Sounds easy? Well, we had to turn hundreds of years of peeling paint, mismatched locks and rotten wood into something presentable. This left us wondering whether we should use a paint stripper or sand it down, and how we would go about addressing the badly filled vertical beads and poorly repaired frame.

The first step was to take the door off its hinges. Luckily that was quite straightforward, as it is hung on pintle hinges (sometimes known as hook and band hinges), so we could just lift the door off. We could then set it up on trestles in the garden and work on it.

renovated door cottage

The finished product — Lydia and Lawrence’s hard work paid off with a beautiful result

Using a combination of disc sanders, chisels, wood filler, a multi-tool and good old-fashioned hand sanding, we carefully sanded back the door to an acceptable surface. We didn’t want it to look too pristine but we did want it to have a relaxed, rustic air about it. We used plenty of wood filler to deal with a multitude of damaged surfaces, and a coat of primer was applied to finish off our weekend’s work. Finally, we selected a mellow tone of paint that reflects the colour of Mabel’s stone, Little Greene’s Stone-Dark-Warm.

The frame was subjected to a similar treatment; however in order to really get the primer into the bare wood we realised that we needed to temporarily remove the wood panelling that surrounded the inside of the door. We carefully prised off the panel then gasped in amazement at the unexpected shock of what lay behind it — a decorative piece of gothic revival-style architectural wallpaper.

gothic wallpaper in cottage

A surprise behind wood panelling

This was an unexpected discovery to find in our modest farmhouse and a real highlight. Unfortunately, the wall-paper is exceptionally fragile and will be a whole project in itself to restore and preserve. We have already sent photos of it off to be dated and identified. This is the real pleasure of owning a listed building — the unexpected discoveries that provide a glimpse into the lives and aspirations of its previous residents. Hopefully our newly decorated door lasts the next 100 years or so!

gothic wallpaper on cottage front door

Revealed — gothic revival style wallpaper hidden for decades

Dating and Identifying Wallpaper

We photographed our piece of wallpaper and sent it off to the Victoria & Albert Museum. They have a large collection of historic wallpaper and can cross reference patterns and manufacturers.

With our piece they were not able to identify the pattern but could tell us it is block printed, in the gothic revival style, dating from around 1830, which is when this style was popular. Blue pigments were introduced at this time so this also helped date the piece. Chemical analysis could provide a more accurate dating. The Wallpaper History Society has also been incredibly helpful.

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