If you have ever walked into a room in a country house and seen the gaping hole where a chimneypiece has been ripped out, you will have felt the sort of shock you might feel at seeing the photograph of a loved one with the eyes scratched out. A chimneypiece (the whole decorative surround of a fireplace) is the soul of the room; it is the note which defines the room’s proportions.

Paul Spencer of Spencer and Richman came to the work of recarving lost chimneypieces, having studied fine art at Bourneville and Farnham. He was apprenticed to Dominic Hurley in Bradnich in Devon, although he regards himself as in part ‘self-taught’ he also comes from an artist’s family, his father being a theatre scene-painter.

Mr Spencer founded Spencer and Richman with his partner, designer Tracey Baker, and another carver, Paul Richman. The company has, in the past few years, completed a series of important replacement chimneypieces, including work at Chandos House in Queen Anne Street, London and a new chimneypiece for John Simpson at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, although the company’s work ranges from recarving the lost foot of a statue to a vast 9ft-high chimneypiece in stone.

Chief among these are examples where they have re-created lost originals, designed by Robert Adam, which have been stolen. Four chimneypieces were made for Asia House on New Cavendish Street, and are a keystone of the major restoration that has been carried out there, the work paid for by the insurers Teceris.

For this project, Paul Spencer worked from a set of early Country Life photographs, and drew up detailed designs, which were approved by Teceris, Howard de Walden estates, Westminster City Council and English Heritage. Mr Spencer says: ‘We made a careful study of the hole that had been left where the chimneypiece had been removed, as this can provide evidence of measurements, indeed, the exact shapes of mouldings, as well as the height and width of footblocks.’

The next stage is a maquette in clay, before carving can begin on the marble itself, which, in this case, was specially sourced Italian statuary marble from Carrara. (The company also sources limestone from France and granite from Somerset.) Mr Spencer adds: ‘The design is continually redrawn and redrawn on the marble itself.’

The result is as convincing a replica as you can imagine, a reproduction but somehow also a work of art in its own right. ‘I feel it is a great privilege to work in these historic settings and put back something so fundamental to its well-being in a living craft tradition. I am always conscious of the skilled craftsmen that have gone before us.’

Spencer and Richman: 01458 273401; www.spencerandrichman.com

TOP TIPS

  • Never underestimate the impact of re-creating the original chimneypiece in a designed interior
  • Do not be tempted to put in any old period chimneypiece you might find?its proportions often do not work in a different interior
  • Do not scrub marble if it is stained. Use instead a traditional poultice (Sepiolite) available from Crawshaws (020?8686 7997), and polish with cream furniture polish

EXPERT DIRECTORY

Chesney’s:020?7627 1410; www.chesneys.co.uk, Cliveden Conservation

Workshop: 01628 604721; www.clivedenconservation.com

Grants Marble: 01626 331699 or 020?7727 3759; www.grantsmarble.co.uk

The English Chimneypiece: 01322 619090; www.english-chimneypiece.co.uk