Preserving the Essence of an Antique

By L. Noreene Parker

Thinking of a new home project of adding Family pieces or Architectural Antiques? Perhaps the provenance of your new treasure is not by way of Martha Washington; now what? Does this mean the pieces are not worthy for your use? Certainly not!
Does it add character and interest to the project, or just take up space? I don’t condone taking up space, with things or people. If it doesn’t add beauty, character, craftsmanship or interest; I’d suggest you rethink using it. Because what does not add surely subtracts. Before you decide, make sure the piece works for you where you intend to use it. Not just in size, but in mass and design. Do you really like it? Will it fit well into the overall plan, look, and lifestyle that you are trying to create?
So now you’ve found the perfect addition and it needs a little work; do you repair, refurbish, refinish, or restore it? Many people often ask if they aren’t all about the same? Not close! Do you enjoy the piece well enough to invest in the Craftsmanship and labor that it will take for the work to be completed? If you have decided the conclusion is yes, that you want to use it; it’s time to move on.
A professional Repair should last a lifetime, and does not detract from the appearance or function of the piece. If the repair is not properly executed it is not only unsightly, but functionally useless, and renders the value of the piece to practically zero.
Many items are in good functional condition. But they may be dark and dingy, under dirt, smoke, and waxes. Those would be better served by refurbishing. And depending on the original material and finish; there are several ways to go about this. Refurbishing cleans and brightens the original material and finish without removing or changing it in any way.
I’ve had many customers ask if refinishing an item would ruin its value. It depends. If the original finish has already been covered over with an inappropriate finish, especially if it was not done well, then the value as original is already lost. By removing the incorrect material, yes we are removing some of the original value. But we now replace it with the correct finish and the value is actually increased, as is the beauty of the piece.
What if the piece is in original condition but still needs a bit of work to be usable? If it is a piece of value, then it should be restored. This is a time consuming process, which should be undertaken by a skilled Craftsman and is an Investment in the piece. The original material, finish, and integrity of the piece is conserved, while restoring and repairing its function or slight damage. The value of the piece in original condition is not altered, nor is its appearance or function.
I am often asked if it is appropriate to add or remove ornamentation from a piece. Do you have a plain and simple piece but you want a more ornate one? Why not just sell it and purchase the more ornate piece? It would certainly look more finished and less contrived. You know, it’s sort of like adding steer horns to a truck hood. It does not matter how you do it; there is something very odd about it. Just remember what I’ve told you on this one. But if that does not bother you, then do whatever you want to do with the piece, remembering that it will have little or no value later to anyone but you.


L. Noreen Parker began working in restoration design in the late 1980s on such projects as design of the original  CNN offices and studios and restoration of the Chattanooga Choo Choo train station hotel, restaurants, and conference center; she has been featured on HGTV, This Olde House, Old House Journal, Antiques Roadshow, CNN, and the New York Times.  

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