Details, details: Conservation of the painted baseboard and chair rail October and November 2021

Admin | December 15, 2021 |

Conservator Samantha Emmanuel uses watercolor to infill areas on the painted black baseboard.

Experts spent much of fall 2021 restoring two unique elements in the interior of the Castro Adobe: the painted baseboard and chair rail, both of which are original elements of the adobe and are considered fairly rare for this era. Adobe buildings in the Mission era were decorated with wall paintings and some included a “dado” — a painted or colored band around the interior wall, typically just above the floor. At the Castro, the dado was applied early after construction and was eventually covered with a wooden chair rail.

A chair rail is a strip of wood that runs horizontally around a wall, a few feet up from the baseboard. Chair rails are usually made of wood and attached to the wall where a chair would hit if rubbed back against the wall. In the case of the Castro Adobe, the green chair rail was painted on the mud plaster wall, along with a black painted baseboard. Both had been severely damaged and faded with time and underwent repair through a meticulous conservation process that focused on retaining as much of the original work as possible. Ample research went into the analysis of the paint colors and composition with chips of the original paint being studied microscopically to understand the material.

The intention of conservation is to improve the condition of the artifact by stabilizing physical condition problems as well as addressing deterioration or damage. Rather than simply repainting, the conservation expert strives to retain as much original material as possible. At the Castro, a substantial amount of the historic finishes have survived over the decades, some of which was protected by an older staircase and other areas were essentially protected by the installation of a wood chair rail. It was important to preserve as much of the original painted material as possible as well as restore the original design.

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks hired Samantha Emmanuel, a wall painting conservator, for the project. Samantha has experience conserving murals and painted decorative surfaces on both lime-based and earthen substrates. Her expertise was essential to restoring the original painted design on the interior adobe walls.

Samantha’s work at the Castro Adobe began with cleaning and stabilizing the baseboards and chair rail, including removing multiple layers of overpaint and old limewash, securing edges of paint loss, etc. This was no easy task!

The next step was “inpainting” using paints that are compatible with the original finishes. Watercolors were used to disguise previous damage and repairs to the original. The rest of the design was meticulously restored using tinted lime paint, which is what was used originally to paint the interior of the Castro. Debra May, principal partner of May/Burch Conservation of Los Angeles, contributed her knowledge and expertise on inpainting during this phase of the restoration.

It took almost four weeks to complete the stabilization and restoration of the painted baseboards and chair rail, preceded by many weeks of planning. We are so excited to have this important feature conserved and restored at the Castro Adobe. Thank you to both Samantha and Debra for all the hard work!

Before. This photo shows the upstairs Fandango Room, the only room with a painted chair rail. It was damaged by a wooden chair rail, which was installed on top of the painted one that is now restored.

After. The painted baseboard and green chair rail conservation in the Fandango Room is complete. Brackets for earthquake bracing for seismic stabilization were placed into walls behind the baseboard causing much damage to the original feature.

The first floor painted baseboard is complete. The baseboard had been severely damaged by the application of a wooden baseboard on top of it.