Restoration: Bringing Antiques Back to Life: Part 1

I won’t bore you with a lengthy rant on the distinction between restoration and conservation, suffice to say there is one. So if you were to approach anyone involved in the conservation of items and suggest that what they do is’restoration’, well…you have been warned!

To restore an object is to add back a bit of sparkle, bringing it back to its life once lived. To conserve is to keep it as it is at that point in time; to slow the deterioration, that we and all things eventually face.

The ever-dynamic world of antiques has an intrinsic link to interior design and creating that must-have look. With a growing move to reuse as opposed to reproduce, and as we all look to our ecological footprint, restoration plays a vital role. It is the behind the scenes necessity that makes the OK transform into the glorious, and the beige becomes colourful once more. A key weapon in the arsenal of dealers, private collectors and decorators alike.

One of my favourite things in the showroom is seeing how some simple restoration can transform a piece. Sometimes we’ll find something which needs a lot of work, so we’ll have to send it out to one of the aforementioned specialists, but sometimes it is just a question of a bit of TLC. Like this lamp that needed its leather “feeding” with some cream, and the silver base cleaned of its years of tarnish to make it look like silver once more.

I have been lucky enough that Guinevere have encouraged my interest in restoration. Having always had the opportunity to speak to our own closely guarded contacts who work with us, benefiting from learning tidbits about commonplace restoration techniques and processes. I have also recently taken part in yearlong restoration course, which has been somewhat like an apprenticeship, with no surface left unlooked at!

I thought I would share a little of my journey so far in pictures, and hopefully as I learn more, I can share some of the progress I make with you all.

In the image to the left I am repairing an old chair, cleaning it with homemade ‘reviver’; a solution which each restorer has their own secret recipe for… But I can’t tell you mine… that’s a secret.

The decorative section clamped together in the picture is meant to sit directly below the seat rail, but had several old nails embedded into an old repair, and a large split which I fixed and clamped while the glue sets.

When taking the upholstery off the chair in the first image, you can see it comes apart layer by layer. Upholstery has changed so much over the years from traditional methods including horsehair, to the more modern foamy seat, each chair will show its own past in the method of upholstery. This photo shows also some of the many tools used to delicately take it apart and to keep it as intact as possible.
The variety of studs and different materials show that this chair has been reupholstered before (it still had the older green leather seat!) and restored several times over the years.

Here you can see some of the tools needed to make different types of joints (shown below), which was a bit overwhelming at first, as I am sure you can imagine!

Directly below, you can see where I started working on mortise and tenon joint (the squares cut into the middle, which are exactly the right size to fit square pegs on another piece of wood). This is cut by hand, with a chisel and mallet and a lot of careful measuring!

Primarily used to join two pieces of wood together at right angles. In restoration it is often used on furniture with damage or loose joints where the original cannot be fixed, as it is a fairly strong type of joint.

The other joint you can see below on the edge of the sample wood is a dovetail; when finished it is particularly hard to pull apart, which makes it excellent for cabinet-making.

Another favourite of mine on this course has been Veneering, but that delicate art requires it own entry!

Until next time.