Care of Antiques (or Skip the Pledge!)

Antiques owners often wonder how to care for their furniture made of beautiful patinized wood.  The short answer is ‘very carefully’. Ask yourself which commercial products were around when this furniture was made you can quickly self-diagnose the best way is an old, simple way.  First rule,  “Skip the ‘Pledge” or any commercial cleaner you find at most supermarkets for that matter.  If you have cleaning staff, you’ll want to give clear instructions.  Remove entirely any supply of commercial cleaners, or tape a handwritten reminder around the can whicm  might save hours of restoration woes later. The best way to  maintain a wooden surface is  to regularly dust with a soft cloth or feather duster and periodically wax it with a bit of elbow grease–like a once-a-year routine.  Just before  holiday is a good time to get things sparkling for upcoming gatherings  It takes years for a ‘patina’  or natural aging of wood to occur. This  cannot be duplicated although ruthless traders attempt such.   If in Belgium or the Low Countries use bees wax or paste wax from a local ‘menusier’ and if in the US  try, Johnson’s floor paste wax.

If furniture is placed in an enviroment with ‘dry air’  devise a way to create moisture. For example, when wooden furniture is placed near a radiator or other warm spot,  fill a small bowl with water and place inside if possible or if on legs, place it underneath. This will help to supply moisture and delay formation of cracks caused by drying of porous woods. Cracking  is  inevitable in pieces with  woods abutted as in construction with planks like table tops, or in which a different wood is  used as an underpining   than that on the outside of the furniture (veneers). Veneers are usually made of a more expensive wood or from a section of a tree with a particularly decorative effect –and all shrink at theirown tempo.

Placing wooden furniture in a sundrenched room may over time bleach areas of the furniture most penetrated  by direct, bright rays. Just as for  a good gardener, care instructions and amount of  sunlight are important matters when positioning furniture in rooms with windows and southern orientation (strongest sun).  Take note if other objects in the room cast shadows to forecome  odd patterns surfacing over time. This also can be avoided by  moving the furniture to a different location that would change the light orientation and lessen tendency of bleaching.  To remedy bleached areas, the furniture color can be corrected but no tby spots. The whole piece is brought to equal neutrality and then re-stained, which may compromise the original patina and can effect the valuation.

If the wood cracks, let a professional woodwork restorer make recommendations, especially if the surface is French polished. It is not a job for an amateur, as many variables can mar perfect intentions:  movement. timing , dust , lack of enduring muscle power — any of these can  cause the shellac to bloom or  unexpectedly turn white in sections and the process has to be started from scratch after first removing the layers completed. Ouch!  A professional job will last for years but there comes a time when the shellac has turned , or scratches have penetrated it beyondtouch up level. If this is the case, it is best to leave this job to someone not only trained, but with an experienced hand. Some styles of furniture require a high gloss finish typical of the period. ”French polishing’. The only correct way of application is by hand, in figure eight patterns, tediously building up over 36 layers to an almost mirror sheen. Be careful, there are restorers who claim to provide  this service and use spray cans! Such finishes will have a rough, minute bubbly surface, quite visible without magnification.
French style pieces will often have metal ornamentation or “ormulu” and it should also be regularly dusted. Use a soft toothbrush to reach intricate grooves and passages.  Often the top surface will be of marble which can only break if dropped or with high impact knocks.  Use a  soft , moist cloth to wipe and restore its natural luster, avoiding all commercial cleansers with pumice or fine grity  substance, as used for marble  floors.

For textiles and upholstery, a little water delicately applied immediately and dabbed dry with a colorless plushy cloth or towel, works wonders to remove or minimize  even the worst of stainmakers like red wine and coffee.  When possible, pre-test  an indescriminate area to prevent irrevocable watermarking before tackling large areas.   For luxury fabrics, (ie. silk, raw silk, linen, wool, cashmere and specialy dyed products) consult the internet or deliver to a local drycleaner with exact information aou the spill as soon as possible.  The best method to forecome mishaps is to proactively anticipate mishaps and apply a commercially available protective coating such as “Scotchgard”.

Finally,  if the furniture is relocated in a household move, you might want to make sure that that written instructions accompany new ownership, including any special assembly notes, (i.e.pegged doors, secret compartments fittings,  etc.). Photography, videos and eventually dvd  can be very useful for movers or new owners

The golden rule of thumb for d-i-y lovers who contemplate projects with showpiece antiques is  –when in doubt , don’t. You would be wise to at least consult a professional before indulging in unknown territory that can result in countess hours of  ‘corrective surgery’.  Don’t do anything in a hurry. Antiques take a lot of abuse but proper care on a timely basis insures their true glory will  shine illustriously for many years to come.


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