Digital Imaging and the Breakfast Room

Digital imaging software is currently being used to record the many decorative motifs present in the Breakfast Room, in order to compare and contrast the decoration featured on the ceiling cornice work and on the fireplace, for example, with other decorative schemes around the House. Of particular interest are the rooms on the opposite side of the portico, which appear to have similar architectural detailing to the Breakfast Room.

 By recording these motifs digitally, it is possible to more clearly identify these similarities – and begin to explore the relationship between these rooms, both architecturally and stylistically. This means that as well as a useful recording tool in its own right, digital imaging techniques can also be used as a platform for new and exciting research.

Fireplace Detail

One area where digital imaging software – particularly 3D modelling software – has real potential in driving research forward, is through its ability to visualise a range of different interpretations of what the Breakfast Room looked like in the eighteenth century, and indeed over time. Osterley’s Acting House Steward, Laura Hussey, is using her background in archaeological illustration to look into the possibility of producing a 3D reconstruction of the current space, where research can be explored and tested on a whole new, ‘virtual’ level. 

One area where digital imaging might be particularly useful is in showing different interpretations of how the wall fillet in the Breakfast Room might have looked. Whilst recent interpretations have shown the fillet work horizontally, James Finlay, NT Advisor on Historic Interiors discovered a ‘shadow’ of fillet running vertically at some point in the room’s history. This vertical fillet could be applied to the digital reconstruction to show what it may have looked like. 

Another potential use, is reflecting the paint analysis research in the eighteenth century colour scheme of the room. Again, a digital record would enable a range of different colour schemes, including ‘Naples Yellow’ to be applied at the click of a button. Not only could these kind of visualisations contribute to a better understanding of the rooms history, but it might also aid in the decision making process for the reinstallation.

An important aspect of this work is that the visualisation can adapt as research evolves. As such, digital imaging software has the potential to become an exciting and illuminating interpretation tool – engaging visitors with the progress of the Breakfast Room Project, as they see the reinstallation take place, virtually, before their eyes.

Screen Grab Fireplace Detail

Screen Grab Illustrator Example 1


Mapping the Walls

Gary Marshall – National Trust Archaeologist for the London and South East Region -visited Osterley today to produce a measured survey drawing of the north wall of the Breakfast Room, to record aspects of its construction.

Gary and Lucy examine the walls...

The drawing will include the position of battens, the location of tacks for hessian and outlines of glue marks.  Before the walls are decorated every piece of physical evidence must be gathered and the production of archaeological drawings helps to ensure that nothing has been missed.

There are four archaeologists who work for the National Trust within the London and South East Region alone.  While it might be assumed that the work of an archaeologist mostly takes place amidst the remarkable countryside cared for by the National Trust, contributing towards a greater understanding of the construction of buildings also forms a key part of their work.

The completed survey drawing of the north wall will be circulated within the project team for comment before the remaining elevations are attempted.

Room for discussion part two…

On Monday 8 July a group of specialists from within and without the National Trust gathered at Osterley to discuss discoveries made in Osterley’s Breakfast Room and the next steps in this project.  The specialists included the NT Paper Conservation Advisor, Head Curator, Furniture Curator and Curator of Pictures and Sculpture.  They were joined by advisors and specialists on historic interior decoration, furniture conservation, plaster and stonework, and the history of textiles.

A number of representatives from the Arts Panel also attended.  The panel provides valuable expertise to the Trust, advising staff and the Board of Trustees on the curatorship and conservation of historic properties (particularly houses with historic interiors and art collections) and their management, display and interpretation.

The visit to the room itself was especially rewarding – raising a number of questions and providing new avenues for exploration.

Group discussion


  • Further exploration of relationship of the room to the rest of the House. Interestingly the rooms on the opposite side of the portico appear to have similar architectural detailing to the Breakfast Room and a corresponding door to that uncovered in the Breakfast Room.  A survey of architectural details throughout the House will be carried out.
  • The physical evidence found when uncovering the walls will be recorded and Gary Marshall, Regional Archaeologist will be invited to map the four walls.
  • A more rigorous attempt to order and understand Osterley’s archives held elsewhere was recommended and the property hopes to hire someone to that end during 2014.
  • John Hartley, Advisor on Furniture Conservation, noted the presence of at least 3 types of tacks present on the uncovered ‘door’ frame.  One hand-wrought, one nineteenth century tin tack and one of copper.  The use and function of this ‘door’ was much discussed as was the Breakfast Room’s relationship to the Library Passageway beyond.
  • Finally, the ‘phasing’ of the project was discussed with the walls and picture hang being tackled in the first phase over the next couple of years – followed by the ceiling, floor, textile elements and carpet. 

Room for discussion…

During a recent engagement project the, now slightly barren, Breakfast Room proved a surprising source of inspiration. 

In preparation for Osterley’s forthcoming exhibition – The Trappings of Trade: A domestic story of the East India Company – members of the local community were invited to take part in a day exploring Osterley’s links with the East.  The event, which was co-hosted by University College London and the National Trust, filmed participants’ interactions with Osterley’s objects and also invited them to bring along their own to discuss.  Photographic portraits were taken and will be displayed in the exhibition alongside the wider display on the Child family directors, Company ships and the transformation of the House.

Breakfast Room discussion

The Breakfast Room, whilst currently empty, provoked discussion on the development of rooms in the House and the way in which they were transformed, not only by Robert Adam but as a result of the commercial exploits of the people who inhabited them.  The Breakfast Room also formed the back-drop for one of the most arresting of the portrait shots.

The Trappings of Trade runs from 27 July – 3 November at OsterleyPark and House.

If you would like to learn more about the East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 project then visit the Think Piece section of the project website:

Beyond Borders: Fillet and where to find it

One of the most elusive elements of the Breakfast Room scheme has proved to be the wall fillet which ran around the room and which may have contributed to the ‘blue ornaments’ described by Agneta Yorke in 1772. 

During his investigation of the Breakfast Room walls James Finlay, NT Advisor on Historic Interiors, discovered a ‘shadow’ of fillet on the yellow painted paper which runs vertically to the left of one of the window architraves.  This confirms that at some point the fillet ran top to bottom and not just as two horizontal strips around the room.The uncovered pattern of the fillet

James also suggests that this treatment might have been extended to the surround of the fireplace – as demonstrated in the State Apartments at Kedleston – round the door and possibly up the room corners.

Fireplace - State Apartments - Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

During an in-depth clean of Osterley’s Upper Store several boxes of fillet were discovered including a booklet containing 4 sections of moulding trialled by the V&A in 1987 during the last redecoration of the Breakfast Room.

V&A Trials

Much older versions of the fillet were also uncovered and, excitingly, underneath the gold finish on a papier-mâché example a blue paint is clearly visible.  The fillet will be sent for further analysis in the hope of finding evidence of the 18th century scheme.

Breakfast Room Fillet: Older versions

In addition miscellaneous examples of papier-mâché fillet work were uncovered labelled “Found in Stable loft 2.1.97” and which do not appear to match any existing designs in the House.

Miscellaneous Fillet

These designs add to those still on display in Osterley’s Long Gallery, Drawing Room and State Bedchamber (below) and to that in the Breakfast Room which we are looking to reinstate.  Further fillet updates will follow!

The rest of the collection...

Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd November: It’s all in the details…

Over the past 250 years the Breakfast Room ceiling’s intricate plaster decoration has been covered by layer upon layer of paint.  This week trials were carried out to see whether these layers could be removed and reveal the original detail in the design.

Removing 7 layers of white emulsion, a layer of blue, a layer of yellow and a, very thick, ‘mushroom white’ beneath.  During removal (above) and the finished result (below):

Using a carefully controlled chemical solvent time trials were conducted to gain an understanding of the different layers and whether the paint might be removed

3 different solvents were tried.  One failed to make any progress at all, one worked incredibly slowly and one was effective.  

These different speeds were affected by whether the paints were oil based or water based.  Different elements of paint mobilise at different rates depending on how they bond with different chemical agents in the stripper.  As a result residue must be completely removed and timings closely observed.

Stone and Plaster Conservator, Sharon Bailey, conducting the ‘time trials’.


Once the lower layer of white was removed the extent to which the paint obscures the design became very clear.

Most interestingly, preliminary findings appear to suggest that it is the layer of paint beneath the yellow and blue scheme of the 1970s which is clogging up the ceiling.  This is in complete contrast to archival research already conducted which indicated that it was the most recent white layers which had caused the problem.


  • Further paint analysis of the ceiling will be conducted.
  • The Breakfast Room has been cleared and a group of experts will be invited early next year to view recent progress.

Wednesday 17th October: plaster, paper and a hidden doorway………

This week we reached a dramatic stage in the Breakfast Room Project at Osterley.  The post 1950 paper and Hessian lining were removed and the walls were taken back to the eighteenth century plaster.

All of this work was done in front of visitors who shared in the excitement.

Detailed analysis of the findings will be undertaken over the next few weeks but highlights include: 

  • The discovery of a door frame – remnants of a door which once connected the Breakfast Room with the Library Passage behind.

  • Holes made by the fixings for a picture rail which once ran around the outside of this room.

  • ‘Graffiti’ on the south wall.

NEXT STEPS:  The room will be entirely cleared of its furniture and a group of experts will be invited to examine the evidence.  This will consist of architectural historians, Robert Adam specialists, furniture conservators, curators and the NT advisors on Plaster and on Historic Interior Decoration – amongst others.