One of the most noticeable and impressive aspects of the Scott House at Virginia Commonwealth University is the ornamental plasterwork throughout the house. Noted Italian-born plasterer and sculptor Ferruccio Legnaoili was known to have worked on the house, but several decorative elements were also commonly available through ready-made ornament firms like The Decorators Supply Company in Chicago. The Scott House appears to be a combination of custom and stock ornamentation, with a water-damaged band of frolicking putti requiring custom replication in the Master Bedroom.
Completed in 1911, the 18,000 sf residence was designed by Noland & Baskervill Architects for Frederic W. Scott and his family. A previous Preservation Spotlight highlighted the stained glass restoration in the Breakfast Room, but ornamental plaster detailing is present in nearly every room.
Florentine artist Ferruccio Legnaoili came to the US to work for Sandford White in 1902 when he was working at the University of Virginia. Legnaoili ended up settling in Richmond in 1907 where he established his own studio and worked on numerous projects, including theatres, banks, churches, office buildings, private residences and statues.
The Noland & Baskervill drawings did not call out catalog numbers for the ornamental plaster, as they had for the exterior decorative copper panels on the Breakfast Room, but they did include detailed drawings for the location and character of the plasterwork. This work could have been ordered from a catalog, designed and executed by Legnaoili, or a combination of both.
As part of Glavé & Holmes Architecture’s scope for the rehabilitation of the Scott House for Virginia Commonwealth University, the Second Floor former Master Bedroom required extensive restoration of the ornamental plaster frieze, cornice and decorative ceiling elements from water damage. In fact, water infiltration below the Third Floor set back damaged many of the Second Floor ceiling joist ends and five rooms required structural and plaster repairs. The former Master Bedroom was one such example of the plaster restoration that was carried out. After repairing the source of the water infiltration and sistering the ceiling joist ends, general contractor Kjellstrom & Lee brought in plaster specialists F. Richard Wilton Co. to repair and replicate the damaged and missing plaster.
The Decorators Supply Company, which has been in business in Chicago since 1883 and still produces many of the historic elements from the same molds, had a very similar frieze of putti, but it did not match exactly what was installed at the Scott House.
Not finding the exact moldings still in production, F. Richard Wilton proceeded to make molds of the elements in need of replication. From these molds, replacement pieces were cast for reinstallation. Small replacements were affixed to the restored flat plaster base with wet plaster. Heavier cornice and frieze elements were tied back into the wall structure and utilized hemp strands to support the plaster mixture.
Using traditional materials and methods ensured a compatible bond between old and new work. The final result seamlessly replicated the damaged or missing original plaster elements to restore the unified design throughout the space.