Whether you have antique furniture that has been in your family for generations or you have recently acquired an item of high value, assuring it is well looked after with suitable care and restoration should be high on your list of priorities. Here are a few tips to get you on your merry way.
How to look after antique furniture
Antique furniture should not be cared for in the same manner as most modern home furnishings as the use of polishes, adhesives and finishers can affect their value.
Don’t assume antique furniture needs to be fed with oil – instead they usually need moisture and so you should avoid storing them in hot, dry areas such as an attic. Furniture oils can temporarily enhance their appearance but can contribute to degradation over time and attract dust and dirt so a varnished finish is usually preferred. Typically, a thin coat of wax may be applied on an annual basis (consult an expert about how frequently to wax); with dusting, using a dampened lint free cloth, carried out on a weekly basis. Remember wax may not be appropriate for all surfaces and so you should consult a furniture specialist. Also steer clear of silicone based polishes that can penetrate a finish.
Brass and copper hardware should not be polished even if it acquires a soft patina that appears unattractive. This is because the original finish should be maintained to help the piece retain its value.
Keeping antiques well maintained is also influenced by where you keep them. Sunlight can degrade early finishes, woods and fabrics so store antiques out of direct sunlight. Humidity can cause wood to expand and contract so invest in a dehumidifier to minimise adverse affects; and don’t leave furniture near any heating appliances.
Finally, be wary of insects, particularly if your antique furniture is made of wood, leather or upholstery materials such as horsehair. Insects such as termites can eat their way into the grain of wood while cockroaches can damage an existing finish by feeding on dirt, grease and body oils. If you spot an active infestation consult a conservator/exterminator as quickly as possible.
What if your furniture needs restoring?
Antique furniture restoration can be performed in many ways. One of the most important things to take into account is the lighting you need for this operation and the mess you will make whilst doing it. It is best to do tasks like this outside and utilise appropriate garden lighting to let you see the grain of the wood and in order that you don’t miss any areas. The most basic is refinishing which involves stripping off the old finish, removing scratches or scuffs and applying a new finish. Worn or damaged hardware may be replaced with similar parts; while severely damaged or rotted furniture may require wood to be replaced. You should only restore what must be restored and it is best to use traditional products such as shellac or lacquer rather than modern finishes like polyurethane.
Due to the time-consuming and complicated nature of furniture restoration it is usually better to hire a professional who has the skills to perform the task and has access to the correct materials and equipment. Furniture restorers may be adept in skills from stripping and sanding to carving, parquetry and French polishing and can provide a refined finish to restore the antique as close as possible to its original condition. Shop around for a reputable professional, look for recommendations and don’t be tempted to take on the job yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.