Caring for Furniture | Furniture Restoration
Furniture can be made of a variety of materials including wood, ivory, metal, glass,
stone, textiles and acrylic resins. To properly restore damage and provide furniture restoration it is necessary to
know the unique properties of each material.
Topics discussed here are intended to aid the owners of fine furniture whether the
item’s value is monetary or sentimental. The majority of historic furniture is in
private hands. Proper care and maintenance is the only way to ensure its preservation
for future generations. Although some objects may eventually become part of a museum
collection, it is nevertheless incumbent on the current owner to provide proper
care. As discussed below, many aspects of furniture care are straightforward and
can be carried out by an educated owner. Problems that are beyond an owner's capabilities
should always be referred to a trained conservator or antique restoration specialist.
Fine furniture, like works of art, must be protected against environmental damage.
Light, especially ultraviolet (UV) light, will not only fade finishes but can break
down woods and fabrics over time. For this reason important pieces of furniture
should be placed out of both direct and indirect sunlight, preferably in a room
lit only by incandescent bulbs which emit the lowest amount of UV light. UV filtering
film can also be applied to windows. Certain types of furniture, most notably wood,
can be especially sensitive to temperature and humidity. Humidity should stay between
40% and 60% and temperature should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Furniture should be periodically inspected for damage, especially insect damage.
Insect larvae can burrow into wood creating tunnels along the grain and as adults
leave exit holes to lay their eggs. Active exit holes contain small grains similar
to sawdust. Any such material found near furniture could be signs of infestation.
If you are certain that there is an infestation, the furniture should be isolated
and encased in a large plastic bag if possible. This should be followed with fumigation
conducted by a licensed exterminator or furniture restoration specialist since chemicals can
cause damage to finishes and textiles.
A popular misconception is that woods need to be fed with oils to maintain their
luster; however, many polishes and oils can attract dirt and cloud the wood grain.
The best protection and maintenance for wood furniture is an application of high
quality paste wax. Wax will not discolor overtime and it seals the wood against
airborne pollutants. Furniture wax can be found at most hardware stores, is easy
to apply and only needs to be applied once a year. Wax should not be applied to
furniture that has been painted or gilded or has flaking or chipped finishes.
Dusting should be done periodically with a dry soft cloth. Feather dusters are not
recommended as they can catch in cracks and crevices, pulling and causing damage.
Care should be taken around loose or damaged hardware and veneers. Hardware, especially
brass, should not be cleaned or polished with ammonia-based products as this can
cause corrosion. Ideally hardware should be removed so that polishes are not in
contact with wood surfaces.
Prior to moving furniture, examine it for loose or missing parts. Make sure all
joints are secure and remove any unsecured drawers, shelves and doors. If these
elements can not be easily removed, they maybe tied down using soft cotton straps,
especially in the case of doors. Tables should always be lifted by the apron or
legs, not by the top which could detach. Chairs should be lifted by seat rails,
not by arms or back rails. Make sure that you do not drag pieces across the floor
as this causes excessive pressure on the sides and legs which may break. When loading
into a vehicle, furniture should be placed on its top or back, not on its legs.
Mirrors and marble or glass tops should be removed and transported vertically.
It is no longer a standard practice to strip and refinish furniture. An original
finish is considered as important as any other element of a fine piece. Maintaining
an original finish not only makes a piece historically accurate, providing patterns
of wear and use, but it also helps a piece hold its monetary value. If the decision
is made to refinish furniture it should be known in advance that this process is
not reversible and will diminish the value of the piece. Even if the original finish
is not necessarily pleasing, any changes made to it will have monetary implications.