Stucco is often used to describe properties for sale in upmarket areas of London such as Chelsea, Belgravia and Mayfair, but what does it mean? Stucco is the common term for Portland cement plaster and describes the exterior finish of a building.
It’s popular because it not only provides an economical hard surface that is rot, rust, and fire resistant, it can be coloured and finished in a wide range of textures to bring out the best of any architectural style.
But while Portland cement was developed in Britain in the middle of the 18th century, the term stucco is of Germanic origin and has had many applications of its use since the Middle Ages. These range from a fine plaster, composed of gypsum and pulverised marble (used for covering walls, ceilings and floors, and for making other decorations) to a coarse plaster or cement, used for covering rough exterior surface of walls in imitation of stone.
The use of stucco, or smooth render, to imitate the appearance of finely dressed stonework became popular in parts of Britain in the early 19th century because it was about a quarter of the price of stone.
But in London external stucco was introduced in the late part of the 18th century to satiate the Regency and early Victorian taste for evenly-coloured and smooth house fronts.
British architect John Nash, who was responsible for much of Regency London, used stucco for his terraces across the country, particularly in Bristol and Bath. But the finest examples of his stucco work can be found in Regent’s Park, Regent Street and the streets surrounding Hyde Park. Thanks to Nash, elaborate stucco-faced terraces and villas came to dominate the centres of numerous key towns and seaside resorts in England and Wales. Another example is the Holland Park Estate in West London, built by William and Francis Radford between 1860 and 1879.
A Gothic revival, when the views of art critic John Ruskin and architect Augustus Pugin influenced the designs of buildings in London, saw stucco fall out of fashion in the capital in mid-Victorian times.
However, stucco continued to remain popular in other parts of the country, particularly in seaside resorts because it provides a good defence against salt-laden spray.
Homebuyers keen to purchase stucco-fronted period properties should, however, beware that Portland cement is by no means a maintenance-free material.
Water can get into stucco-covered walls through cracks, poor sealants, improper flashing and high-sitting plant beds. Keeping up with the maintenance of your home in these areas is the easiest way to prevent moisture issues.
Performing a simple visual inspection of exterior walls once or twice a year for holes, significant cracks or separations as well as noting changes from your previous observations is the best way to keep an eye on potential issues.
And blocked or damaged gutters can also lead to staining and decay of the stucco.
It is certainly worth maintaining stucco-fronted property, particularly in central London. The buildings not only provide a link with the past, well-maintained properties grow in value far faster than those requiring restoration work.