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Decorative interiors are well worth preserving

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I applaud your conservation issue (AJ 7.6.01) which contained two articles that discussed the investigation and conservation of paint work in historic interiors. Andrew Hirst's 'Rainbow alliance' article, however, did cause concern.

Hirst states that historic decorative interiors are 'no oil paintings'. Unaltered historic interiors are more rare than Rembrandts and should be cherished as such. They offer insights into lifestyles and long-lost fashions and should be conserved as historic documents. Reconciling conservation and modern use can be achieved if standard guidance for the preservation of these finishes is followed.

The investigation of architectural paint finishes has developed into a recognised discipline over the past 30 years, thanks to pioneering work of architect Dr Ian Bristow and investment in training and research by English Heritage.

The accumulated layers of historic paint and other decorative finishes are irreplaceable evidence that assist in unravelling the history and structural development of a building. We are fortunate that the few experienced architectural paint researchers working in Britain are seen as leaders in the field.

English Heritage is aware that the discipline is hampered by lack of training and poor research. Last April, it hosted a one-day seminar entitled 'Layers of Understanding', which aimed to reach a consensus on guidelines and standards for architectural paint research, which we now hope to publish on our website. So rather than re-inventing the wheel, let's build on the expertise and advances we have already made.

Anyone commissioning this type of research may be interested in attending a three-day workshop, 'Understanding and Using Architectural Paint Research', to be held at West Dean College, near Chichester, from 9-12 October (for booking info tel 01243 818294). The recent English Heritage publication, Informed Conservation - Understanding historic buildings and their landscapes for conservation, by Kate Clark, also offers guidance on investigating historic buildings. Details can be found on our website (www. english-heritage. org. uk).

Helen Hughes, senior architectural paint researcher, English Heritage

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