In April, 2010, we were contacted by a board member of the Hay House, an historic property in Georgia, undergoing renovation. The Hay House is a National Historic Landmark owned by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, and they are in the process of restoring it to its original decor. The exterior of the house was completed in 1860 and the furnishing of the interior was complete by about 1870, after the civil war. Known as The Palace of the South, the 18,000 square foot mansion is capped by a cupola 80 feet above the ground that provides sweeping views of the city of Macon. Please visit the Hay House website website to learn about this remarkable home and see a virtual tour of parts of its interior.
We were asked to create a new version of the original floor covering in the dining room, a floorcloth from about 1870. Pieces of this floorcloth had been discovered under built in cabinets that were being removed as part of the dining room renovation.
Here is a photo of the original floorcloth remnant. The color variation is the result of cleaning a portion of the remnant to discover the actual original colors. The original floorcloth was burlap based, and the design was probably applied either by stamping or some sort of printing/rolling process that deposited a thick, textured application of the heavy oil based paint products used at the time. The pattern has an 8” repeat, with each red “cross” and black “star” measuring 8”.
Here is a photo of the sample piece we made to emulate the original:
To obtain the textured look of the original, we stenciled thin lines of a slightly different hue than their red and black backgrounds. The pattern is quite complex and we designed six stencils to create it.
The dining room is about 1300 square feet in size, and unlike most of our floorcloths which are made as area rugs, this one is installed wall-to-wall, as was the original. We made a total of 5 runs of the floorcloth using canvas sheets measuring 10’ x 30’ to create enough material for the installers to work with.
Here are a few images of the floorcloths in production: This image shows two of the runs. The canvas on the left is in the beginning stages. It has been stapled to the wood floor, sprayed with water and shrunk, prior to having a coat of gesso applied. The canvas shrinks further as the gesso dries, and draws taut against the staples, creating a very flat, smooth surface. Once the gesso has cured, the canvas is turned over, re-stapled and gessoed again twice, followed by 4 coats of the black background color, sanding between coats.
The canvas on the right has had two of its six stencil applications. The red crosses have been applied, as have the thin red “texture” lines.
This photo shows the application of the red crosses via the very long stencil on the left of the photo, and the black texture lines being applied on the right. The floorcloth to the right has all but the final stencil pass done.
In this photo, again, two stencil processes are being done; the ochre crosses and fleur de lis that ornament both the black stars and red crosses are being applied, and on the left of the photo, the thin gold lines that surround the cross and star shapes are being applied. This is a particularly laborious process as this stencil must be laid 4 times to complete and connect the lines.
This photo shows all five runs laid next to each other. All of the stenciling is now complete and the polyurethane coats (eight!) are being applied via a sprayer.
The final process is application of a wax coat as a sacrificial layer on top of the cured polyurethane coats.
The floorcloths were then rolled up and shipped in four tubes (weighing 650 lbs!) in September, 2010.
The Hay House wasted no time getting the floorcloths installed. Here is a photo of the installation, which took place in early October, 2010. The installers prepped the floor by applying a leveling agent so that the parquet floor on which the floorcloth was being installed was smooth, and then applied a layer of glue.
They cut the floorcloth edges along a gold line in the pattern and put the two sides together like puzzle pieces to create an invisible seam.
Here is a photo of the installed floorcloth:
Here are several photos of the dining room, taken in July of 2011, showing the installed floorcloth and the completed restoration of all aspects of the dining room.
(July 2011 Photos by Walter Elliott.)
Here is a close up of the Hay House pattern: