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WORK IN PROGRESS

This small villa in inner Adelaide had for decades been hiding its charms under a layer of pebbly render – ‘roughcast’ or ‘pebbledash’. It was ignored by a council heritage survey until a bit of investigation revealed beautiful grey/blue ‘Tapley’s Hill bluestone’ under the render.

There were a few other problems to be dealt with in bringing this building back to something like its youthful heyday.  First, the front walls were severely affected by the scourge of South Australia rising damp, or ‘salt damp’. Houses of this age (built about 1880) don’t usually have much in the way of footings or foundations. You’re lucky to get a line of bluestone lumps in a ditch beneath the above-ground wall. Sometimes there’s a damp course of sand and bitumen – which has usually failed by now, and occasionally there will be layers of timber, limestone or even glass laid in the hope that the system would prevent the upward movement of moisture.

On the wall with the dodgy-looking 1960s window, we introduced a plastic membrane as a damp course. We replaced the window too, and laid more bluestone. Tapley’s Hill bluestone, like its more common sibling Mount Osmond bluestone is actually slate – the compressed silt of ancient lakebeds. The Mount Osmond stone has enough iron in it to give the stone its characteristic rusty colours. It doesn’t split as well as Tapley’s Hill stone, which responds better to ‘ashlar’ work – with the stone shaped into flat-faced rectangles for laying with the thinnest of mortar joints. Tapley’s Hill stone, with very flat but sometimes rough surfaces to its planes of cleavage, is also called ‘alligator stone’. It’s lovely stuff. We paid about $700 per tonne for the additional stone we needed.

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This villa will receive the full treatment. The newly exposed walls will be restored and repointed and there’ll be a new galvanised iron roof in Z600 unpainted galvanised iron, traditionally fastened with spring-headed nails rather than Tek screws and with soldered gutter joints rather than rivets and silicone. Why the ultra-original approach to the roof? Because it looks better and doesn’t cost much more. Our specification also requires hand scribing of roof capping to match the corrugations in the iron, and real lead capping on the corner of the verandah awning. Fake ‘acrylic lead’ is available, but goes yellow/grey eventually. Where we can be original without any significant penalty in cost or performance, we do. The aim is not to restore a structure to perfection, but to make it look as though the original fabric has simply been well looked after all these years.  So you’ll find us rubbing high strength tea into embarrassingly creamy new mortar work, or sanding sharp edges (‘arrises’) off replacement timber.

Once the walls and roof are done, there will be a verandah floor and awning reconstructed. Expensive stone wasn’t wasted on the short return wall adjacent the front door. That wall was roughly made of bricks, so we will cover the brickwork with a grey render marked out as faux ashlar, as would hgave been the treatment when the house was new. Passers would generally only see the walls that are parallel to the road or footpath, allowing the return wall to be built of cheaper brick, rendered and lined to suggest ashlar stonework. The side walls and the short return, all of brick, had no need of expensive masonry.

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