There are a lot of one-of-a-kind design features of the Westinghouse HQ building. One of those details are the plaster moldings located on the first and second floor. We had the opportunity to interview Steven Dall, the owner of Designs by Dall, to get a behind the scene look at what goes into creating this stunning building detail.
Designs by Dall is a small plaster and painting company that specializes in the preservation, conservation, and restoration of historic homes and buildings. Steven Dall started his career as a residential painter to finance his music career. One of the men he worked with in Toronto guided him towards learning plaster work, out of necessity because the plaster needed to be restored before being painted. Today, most of Dall’s clients are residential, restoring great rooms and foyers.
To learn more about Designs by Dall, you can check out their webesite: designsbydall.com
Please provide an overview of the restoration work you've done within Westinghouse.
We began working on restoring the Westinghouse plaster in March 2017. We started on the main centre stairwell from the basement up to the 7th floor, remediating the walls of any exposed lead and mildew. We completed all the support columns on the 7th floor, up to the ceiling peak and restored the beautiful 2nd floor moldings. Currently, we’re working on restoring the plaster on the 1st floor. As we worked through the building our goal has been to stabilize all the original plaster and then incorporate new plaster true to the finish of the original work.
What were some of the challenging aspects of the Westinghouse restoration?
Our greatest challenge was the condition of the building. It had been derelict for decades, with harmful water damage, which had rendered many walls and ceilings unstable and in some cases unsalvageable.
Another challenge was learning how to work on such a large project. We’re used to working in beautiful parlor and great rooms, so working on such a large project requires a lot of commitment and determination from my team – it’s been a great experience.
Please share any historical information regarding the plaster mouldings and why they were so common in that era and any further historical significance.
The plaster work in Westinghouse is a classical design, originally found in Europe in the Victorian era and is a common design in plaster work in general. Although these features can be found in wealthy owners’ residences, they were not common in the workplace. These were hand cast mouldings and they would have come at a considerable added cost, one that was certainly an intentional choice of the owners at time of construction in 1917. The original President’s office, on the second floor has the same beautiful mouldings as the ground floor foyer/lobby. The original owners wanted people who came into the building to be wowed. It’s amazing to think that at the time of the first world war the architects, designers and business owners were insistent upon investing in such opulence. Of course, I believe that investing in such beautiful art and architecture is necessary, as we all need something to strive for, and now we can bring that original vision back to the building.
There are three main plater designs used at Westinghouse, The Egg and Anchor, The Acanthus Leaf, and Custom Appliqué in the centre of the Egg and Anchor mouldings.
Egg and Anchor Moudling
The Acanthus Leaf Moulding
Custom Appliqué in the centre of the Egg and Anchor Mouldings
7 Facts you didn’t know about Plaster:
Plaster is created from ground alabaster stone, which is then treated, heated and becomes the fine gypsum plaster.
France is the largest producer of plaster.
Paris, Ontario, where Dall lives, was named as such because alabaster mines were discovered there. It was the main industry in Paris, Ontario until the 1950’s when the supply was depleted.
Plaster of Paris is also used for making casts to set broken bones.
Plaster is still used for chalk.
Plaster doesn’t mold, like drywall and other building materials
Plaster is fire retardant and was very popular 100 years ago, not only for the beautiful finish, but also as fire protection.
What has your experience been working on the Westinghouse HQ redevelopment?
Like most of my projects this one is certainly a labor of love, but on a grand scale. I feel blessed to be part of such a beautiful building and just hope my work can “Wow” like the original work did. I am constantly learning the right way to do things is the only way to do things, when I study the original methods in order to replicate a moulding it’s like an affirmation of the traditional methods.
When the project is finished, my team can stand back with the owners, the architects, designers, the small army of trades people and look at the work we’ve accomplished - that shared feeling of pride is the real reward.