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Impressive Victorian restoration for Brampton’s Alderlea house

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Third-generation master plasterer Jean-Francois Furieri considers his restoration of the long-hidden ornate plasterwork in an iconic Brampton mansion, “one of my best Victorian restorations.”

The principal of Iconoplast Designs, a Toronto-based architectural plaster conservation firm, Furieri is receiving enthusiastic reviews for his firm’s work at the historic Alderlea house. Iconoplast is among a long list of architectural, consulting, and contracting firms who have transformed the Italianate-style building into a landmark event venue, say City of Brampton officials.

As one of the last major components of an $11-million, multi-phase and multi-year project, Iconoplast restored the elaborate plaster arches, shelving, cornices and medallions on the main floor, as well as recreating two new medallions on the second floor. Conducted over a three-month period earlier this year, the undertaking also included some repair work.

In the process, the firm recreated the gilding which had been lost and obscured by decades of paint. Evidence of the original gilding was uncovered on a small arch that Iconoplast worked on last year to demonstrate its skills to officials.

"There is no room for error or the plaster could be destroyed," says Furieri about the first and one of the most critical steps in the procedure — the chemical removal of the paint.

"It required many applications and had to be done with hand tools."

After the paint removal was completed, the plasterwork was sealed with successive applications of shellac. The next step was painting and applying metallic gold leaf or the gilding.

"We do not build a thickness, we work with the porosity of the plaster."

In touching on other aspects of the work, Furieri says he received great satisfaction from the recreation of hallway medallion using original sections discovered in a box. "It was one of the most elegant Victorian medallions I had ever worked on. It has grace and movement."

City project manager Robert Hornblow says he was struck by the dedication, skill, patience and hard work of the restoration team which was comprised of Furieri, his assistant Briar Ford, Sacha Klein and Maurice Kwiecinski.

The plaster had been hidden for decades by a series of drop ceilings and false walls, which had been installed by the Royal Canadian Legion, owners of the house from 1944 until 2002.

"By doing this (erecting the camouflage elements) the Legion protected the plaster."

It wasn’t until 2009 with the commencement of the project that the plasterwork was uncovered. This occurred during the demolition of non-heritage elements and a two-storey addition known as Memorial Hall which been built by the Legion, says Hornblow.

Although measures were implemented to protect the plaster, the plaster restoration couldn’t start until the project’s other phases had been completed, he says.

"We wanted to show the public what had been done during those phases," says Hornblow on a partial reopening of Alderlea from September to December 2014.

From January to March of this year the house was closed again for the plaster work.

Overlooking popular Gage Park, the mansion was built between 1865 and 1879 for John Chisolm, a businessman and local politician who also served as Peel County (now Region) MPP in the provincial legislature for 19 years.

Considered one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in Ontario, the house is distinguished by large eaves, bay windows, red and buff brick, a wrap-around verandah on the exterior and ornate plastering on the inside. The city’s heritage department believes it may have been designed by William Kaufman, one of the leading Canadian architects of his time. In more recent times, however, the house faced an uncertain future.

Alderlea was purchased from the Legion by the city in 2002 because it was concerned it would be sold to a developer and eventually demolished, says heritage officer Stavroula Kassaris.

"At that time the Ontario Heritage Act could not prevent demolition, only allow for a cooling off period."

Although the plasterwork has been restored to its original construction time period, the rest of the house has been restored to an 1890s time period, she says.

"Other construction carried on after the initial building and the 1890s was the height of the Italianate period."

Both she and Hornblow say they will be exploring ways Iconoplast Designs can be nominated for a major award.

Other commendations are also in order, says Brampton Historical Board president Michael Avis.

"The City of Brampton and, in particular, the Brampton Heritage Board, is to be congratulated for their commitment to the saving of this significant and irreplaceable local heritage asset."

Other participants in the Alderlea project included JMX Contracting Inc., Rutherford Contracting, JJ McGuire General Contracting and Collaborative Structures Ltd.  Taylor Hazel Architects were the architects for the project’s Phase Two. Structural engineers included Blackwell and CSE Structural.

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