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Kintsugi and Timber Frames

As many of you will know, Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

"Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as "no mind," but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself." — Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

So what is the relevance of Kintsugi in the context of Orleton Manor?

Depending on which way your philosophy on the repair of historic building swings, the general rule for repair focuses on keeping interventions to a minimum whilst retaining as much of the significant fabric as possible. This may be significant because of its age, its material type or even due to evidential or cultural value. In the simplest terms This is generally categorised as the 25% rule, that is to say if 25% of the significant part can be retained the item should be repaired and not replaced.

Orleton Manor has a complicated close studded timber frame and this principle is applied to each timber member in turn. Assessing it for its significance and importance and whether it hides any key features that help to tell the story of the building. A simple stud that may need replacing, could have evidence showing window locations or door heads, carpenters marks or conversion marks. These all tell the story and sometimes they are too important to keep.

The Scarfing of New to Old

When I started on this journey my view was somewhat dismissive of this as I felt it would lead to increased costs and a patchwork of repairs that I considered would be less acceptable than the replacement of individual members.

And whilst repairing generally costs more than replacement I have come to see the beauty in skilfully executed repairs. They are part of the ongoing story of the house and take away as little as possible from its history. Its far too easy to take away from a building, but once it has gone you cannot put it back. We are so fortunate to have some of the best local carpenters who also believe in the philosophy of repair, not only does it keep the buildings history intact, it tells a story as well as giving opportunity to the craftspeople to keep their skills alive.

Rail has retained its external face while having a repair laminated to the interior

Matthew enjoying a very well patched corner post

Photographs Courtesy of Jacob Oakley


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