Archive for Care & Maintenance

Care of Antiques (or Skip the Pledge!)

Posted in Antiques with tags on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

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.


Brass Chandeliers

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

If you’ve ever looked inside one of the many cathedrals in Europe or noticed classical paintings of European interiors, (i.e. Vermeer), you’ve seen prime examples of item number 6 on our Top Ten List of Antiques to Buy in Belgium.– the  Brass Chandeier.  It is characterized by a middle baluster shaped support, (not unlike the wooden decorative shape in a stair railing) and radiating arms that scroll into elegant S-shaped extentions with candleholders  accompanied by a drip saucer.  The range in height can be from 1, 2 or 3 tiers and in diameter from 4 up to 24 arms.  Similar style and quality sconces or ‘appliques’  have three arms and look marvelous below a small to medium mirror

First, the weight of an older one is a fast way to note its quality and age, as modern copies are mostly hollow and tinny in comparison. You might be saddened by a second obvious sign, a possible energy conversion to either gas or electricity giving way to uncharacteristic drilled holes and/or encased wiring. The best examples will be without electricity but if conversion is done and is desired, check that it might need rewiring either for reasons of safety or international currency if relocating. In this case the price should reflect a ‘not-in-original-state reduction and if it is in original state, consider yourself a super sleuth and very, very lucky. If funds allow this is truly a no brainer, and you’ll just have to accept that everyone will want to have all future Christmas dinner and special entertainment at your place.The ambience of a beautifully lit chandelier with its Vermeer reflections is truly priceless.

Age & Patina
The age of a brass chandelier (unlike the glass one) can be determined by how shiny or dull the surface brass appears ( sans dust and grime) and its speed of tarnishing to a warm patina after polishing. The older, the shinier might be a rule of thumb if quantum leaps came with the dealers package, so then you can revert to Plan B and indoctrinate your expert eye. Look to see if the arms are ‘pinned’ into the (shiny, solid) central support (16 c), afixed with screw threads or bolted (mid-to end 19 c).

Hanging and Support
As with all lighting with a drop feature or cascade of tiers, brass chandeliers should be measured for placement, adequate ceiling height, tall heads in the family will not enjoy close encounters of this gorgeous albeit robust handbanger. Make sure the support for this beautiful albeit possible headbanger is sufficient. The length of its drop can easily be adjusted with matching brass chain or a non-matching one, covered in velvet, silk or linen as appropriate to the decor. it might be good to mention that there are matching accessory sconces or ‘appliques’ [French] possible to compliment the room as well. Dealers and collectors love this chandelier for the ease of shipping and moving it from one place to another. Oversized shipments are usually priced by volume so being able to stack the arms makes transport easy as well as economical. Antiques do not have taxes levied or incur custom charges so make sure you get a certificate with your purchase.

Polishing once a year is adequate for brass chandeliers as part of the fun is letting the brass repatinate and show its continued abilty grace the most elegant of occasions. The ease of cleaning, is in tandem with the ease of dismantling the arms, so the pinned model wins. Just remove the pins, polish and re-pin, never having to remove the full weight of the chandelier. For the others, there is basically the same maneuver, but more time consumption can be expected due to the slower dismantling or inability to dismantle the arms separately. Still, besides its aesthetic beauty, the practicality of being able to remove candle wax without climbing a ladder, is a redeeming quality soon forgotten. The unsurpassed warmth and romantic atmosphere generated in any weather condition by this king of lighting fixtures adds a marvelous touch of European craftsmanship and history to any occasions. Whether placed over a refectory table, high ceiling foyer or conservatory with pool in view, it turns into a showpiece chameleon in a range of rustic and formal decors.

Lusters (Glass Chandeliers)

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

What dining room table could not benefit from an elegantly appointed antique  hanging chandeliers ? I personally like to see them in arched doorways and entrances where the multi-tiered ones make a grand first impression of which any collector can be proud.

A search for one of these will soon reveal that although they may all seem alike at first glance, but a few questions may rise: How do you tell the older ones from the more modern ones? How many tiers will look best? How many lights are on each tier and can you get bulbs for the fittings in most countries?

Detecting age
Older lusters , at least pre-WWII, are more delicately scrolled and the armature is less robust. The later armatures are ‘outlined’ in glass, concealing the metal and giving an appearance of more bulk-indeed they do weigh more. The metal in the earlier version is visible and the type of metal used is strong and heavy though delicate in design. Lusters from this time will have a more basic ‘feel’ and patina. All of the teardrops will be glass as opposed to crystal.

Some of these chandeliers suspend more teardrops than others, and taste varies individually. When making a purchasing decision, an important consideration is the intended placement vs the hang depth and ceiling height. A general rule for price is the more tiers/the bigger the circumference, the higher the cost.

Care and Maintenance
Maintaining the luster is easy. If needed it can be rewired for different currency and cleaning is done by spraying with cleaning solution only periodically. The light fittings are normal size and one can fit them with candle flame type bulbs that have a twisted texture and pointed end, or bulbs with long narrow shape without the twisted texture. In all cases, the crowning touch is installation of a dimmer switch to capitalize on any moment that deserves a special atmosphere and great memory of your time in Belgium and the thrill of the hunt. [See also Brass Chandelier]


Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , on April 29, 2009 by dutchnduchess
 Top Ten Antiques   to Buy in Belgium
French Palm D'or Lamp Base, ready for rewiring and selecting a new lampshade

French Palm D'or Lamp Base, ready for re-wiring and selecting a new lampshade



No. 3

Lamps can add a small personal touch or become  the main attraction, depending on the scale of a room. Take for example a small office with a large desk, appointed with and interesting base topped off by a red lampshade. 
And you may ask what for an interesting lamp base would I be scouting?  Pieces or pairs of things you can easily have made into a lamp but also one of a kind bases that started out very elegant, lost their glory and  just lack a new owner with a creative spark and little elbow grease to shine it up like silver plated candlesticks. For the rustic or informal look we like French confit pots (warrants another blog, (just google for now) or ceramic whisky kegs with likewise rustic fabric on the lampshade like larger weave linen. For student rooms and and music enthusiast, convert a  trumpet or clarinet  picked up at flea markets or a brocante for a song.  Changing an antique object into a lamp is actually not such a great deal and provides you with a unique decoration at reasonable cost. A little warning however. If, for instance, you decide to have a valuable vase made into a lamp base, please make sure the vase itself is not altered or damaged with serious loss of value as a result. For valuable items like this, special techniques are available which are always reversible.  


Old lamps and lighting found at  brocantes often still have their original wires, fittings and plugs. Please realize these lamps may have been out of use for many years. As corroded wiring and pre-1960 plugs and fittings can cause electric hazards it is highly recommended to have your local (antiques) restorer or electrician to have a look at it before you actually put the plug in the power. Bringing an old lamp up to today’s safety standards is a relatively inexpensive exercise and having this done now provides you with a lamp that can be used world wide. Lamps done in Belgium are prepared for 220volts but work perfectly in the countries with 110volts. The one thing you may have to change locally are the plugs (or use adaptor NOT transformer) and of course you need light bulbs with the voltage of your specific country.

Local dealers will also be able to assist you with finding the perfect lampshade. Many stores in Belgium offer a wide variety of shades readily available for your specific lamp style, but even so you can opt for having a lampshade made to your liking. The advantage of going this route is that you are in control of exact shape and color to match your specific lamp or even the decor of your room. Having a shade made to your liking will not cost an arm and a leg and the eventual additional cost is easily compensated by the fact that you have a unique one of a kind item. Always allow for a couple of weeks incase you decide to have an old or antique lamp re-done. All may sound to add up seriously, but new, quality lighting is expensive and having an old or antique lamp re-done rewards you with having something vintage and quality which you know is safe today without the feeling you have one of the millions sold at the mega store.

My favorite lamp in Belgium is the 40’s Palm D’or lamp. Regularly found in flea markets, these lamps were designed after those used in hotels in Cannes and Nice. They are recognized by he 24 carat gilt palm leaves in the middle emanating from a block-shaped base, standing minimally about 20 inches tall. The base material may vary from black metal, chrome steel and some rarer with Baccarat crystal. They can look grim when at the market, but after restoration they are fantastic and stand proud in formal as well as in a contemporary decor. This lamp base when  topped off with a black (outside) and gold metallic (inside) shade, rimmed with a thin piping on the edges for a “tres chique”  can easily become the crowning  jewel in any room.