Our in-house restorer Dave knows all there is to know about restoring antiques and repairing any damage. He plays a crucial role in sustaining the life of our stock and making sure it can survive for future generations. He shares his dos and don'ts for materials we often encounter in the antiques world.
Dave says… ‘Caned seats and backs, as well as whole wicker pieces, gradually disintegrate over time with heavy use. If you have buttons on the back of a pair of trousers, for example, they will snag and aggravate the cane until one day – ping! The woven part will come loose. There are a few things you can do, however, to keep cane or wicker pieces in tip-top condition.’
DO: Treat the wicker to strengthen it. You can use a clear lacquer or shellac to do this, but be sure to read the specifications of your product carefully as not to affect the colour of the piece. A good quality clear shellac will put a sheen on the wicker without affecting the colour. This will help the cane to last longer and avoid fraying or breakages.
DON’T: Use a wicker piece to support heavy loads. You might think a very heavy box on a caned side chair works for a temporary storage solution, but this will gradually weaken the tautness of the cane.
DO: Use cushions. This will help to reduce the daily stress on a cane or wicker seat.
DON’T: Drag fully wicker pieces around, like a bamboo dressing table for instance. These pieces are usually only fixed with nails and pins, so a lot of dragging and heavy-handedness will weaken them. Lift the pieces up and move them instead.
You might have inherited a lovely Georgian or Victorian piece, with stunning colour and patina. How do you keep it looking that good?
DO: Use a wax diluted with a little white spirit to treat the piece. Do this a couple of times a year to preserve the finish.
DON’T: Expose it to direct sunlight or a very warm part of the home. This is how antiques fade and lose their striking depth of colour.
DO: Use a lint-free cloth to dust your antiques. This way, you won’t scratch the polish.
DON’T: Surround a great piece of brown furniture with plant pots or other water hazards. Watermarks are the devil for brown furniture and must be avoided at all costs.
Not sure why it is worth restoring an old piece of wooden furniture? Read our case, 'In defence of brown furniture' here.
In most cases, you want to consult a professional when it comes to upholstered furniture because there are considerable risks with it. However, Dave advises…
DO: Inspect the frame before you start taking anything off. Make sure the legs are intact and check for wobbles in the frame.
DON’T: Do anything in haste. In some cases, the upholstery will be keeping the whole thing together. This is where a risk assessment is very important.
Intricate veneers are often what makes a classic piece of antique furniture so beguiling. But after a long life this applied decoration can start to lift off. What can you do?
DO: Cut a small square or rectangle where the damage is and patch repair it, then match the colour after.
DON’T: Cut veneers in funny shapes! Matching it after will be a nightmare.
DO: If the lifting veneer is one piece, lift it up and glue underneath then put it back down. Run a flat knife along where it is lifting to see how extensive the problem is – there’s no point in patch repairing bit after bit, you may as well do it in one go!
DON’T: Attempt to patch repair if there are bits missing entirely or splintered. You will need to replace the whole thing.
Gilding gives anything from a commode to a mirror a majestic opulence. How do you keep it looking so good?
DO: Take care to match the exact colour of the gold leaf if you are going to touch up the gilding. Believe it or not, there are lots of shades of gold!
DON’T: Transport gilt antiques carelessly. Logistics is where most damage to gilding is done.
Dave's final piece of advice when it comes to tackling restoration:
‘If you are going to take up restoration or repair your own pieces, it is going to take a lot of patience. You need to juggle several skills. A risk assessment needs to be carried out for every piece, and you must think ahead.’
Restoring antiques and other furniture is key to an eco-friendly approach to interiors. Read our article 'Sustainable antiques for soulful homes'.