Antique furniture restoration refers to either the practice of restoring a piece of antique furniture
Either to a like-new condition or to what might be perceived as like-new
Or it can refer to the practice of preserving a fine piece of antique furniture to prevent any further deterioration in its condition.
What is Antique Furniture Restoration?
Furniture Restoration can involve something as simple as lightly cleaning a cabinet, a bookcase or set of drawers to remove excessive dirt or grime, or it can include complete rebuilding of a fine secretaire.
Restoration is often done by a collector, possibly a museum or antique dealer (prior to dislaying for sale), when they acquire a new item. The purpose of good furniture restoration is to restore the items original appearance or restore the original function.
There is a great deal of difference between restoring and repairing antique furniture.
You can imporve function by repairing, but proper restoration is truly an art. The finish on the piece can be stripped and the finish redone, but proper anitue furniture restoaration requires that the original patina is retained, wherever possible.
Stripping is only done as a last resort, especially when antique furniture is involved. Vintage car engines can be rebuilt with newly engineered parts as needed, and holes in an Omar Ramsden silver pot can be patched, but antique furniture restoration means retaining the original parts and everything that confirms the age of the item.
However, for many buyers there is no sense in owning antique furniture that cannot be used or cannot be put on display.
Antique Furniture Restorers …
Antique restoration is very often carried out by specially trained craftsmen, such as cabinet makers or metalsmiths. Most have extensive experience and have spent many years in their chosen fields. However, some are self-taught or not so talented amateurs, and poor or sub-standard restoration is the subject of many professional restorers nightmares with working on a previous bad repair being the worst possible scenario.
Countless demands and many issues come up when restoring antique furniture, and almost all result in some form of compromise.
Some antique furniture collectors prize patina above all else, or require a piece of furniture to still genuinely reflect the aesthetics that demonstrate its age.
Sometimes the furniture restorer will have to make a choice and advise on the best possible outcome. This usually depends on why the antique furniture restoration is taking place, ie; to sell the item or for long term display or for normal day-to-day use.
Over-restoring an item can result in substantial reductions in value, even more so than if no restoration had been doen at all. Therefore, restoration should always be left to the judgement of professional restorers who are sensitive to all of these issues.
The client who fails to listen to the restorers advice will often end up with something worth less.
Insuring that a piece of furniture retains or increases its value after professinal restoration means taking the antique furniture restorers advice on-board.
In contrast, conservation typically aims to preserve the remaining material as being worthy or valuable in its own right, without necessarily being functional or looking as it did when new.
There are several criteria for what conservation work is necessary and how far the work may go.
Slowing or stopping deterioration and eliminating or mitigating the root cause is the first task of the conservator.
Conservators are usually trained in the science of materials and chemistry, as well as art history, archaeology and other disciplines related to their specific area of expertise.
French Polishing furniture was the industry standard in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was replaced by modern methods introduced during the Industrial Revolution.
cheap lacquers and efficient spray systems replaced the original French polish finish, as French Polishing was labour intensive and impractical for use in the mass production of furniture.
However, the demand for antque furniture ebbs and flows and the demand for antique furniture restoration follows the same pattern. The requirement for professional restorers is falling off and fewer and fewer people see it as a valid career path. So, expect the cost of antique furniture restoration to climb as the old skills, like French Polishing, die out.