Saturday, March 13, 2010

Preserving Antique Furniture Part 1 - Patina and Why You Shouldn't Disturb It

The point of restoration most often discussed, sometimes argued but rarely agreed upon is patina. There is no real right and wrong but there is a very strong sense of responsibility on our part for conserving our past in a sympathetic manner and not disturbing more than is necessary. This does not always please the customer, especially those who call on you with a piece of furniture that is pristine condition and in need of no more than a good clean and wax. We explain the way we would approach the restoration of that article and they say "No! I want it stripped, sanded and refinished- I want it looking new again."

Then, a long silence and an attempt to dissuade the owner from causing irreversible harm to the piece of furniture by removing its well-worn finish or patina.

Patina, as defined in the dictionary, is "a gloss produced by age on wood", which is probably oversimplified, as this does not take into consideration the role of the millions of scars, scratches and bruises, along with a gentle discolouration of both the polish and the faded upper surface of the timber. With rustic or primitive furniture the paint will mellow, being rubbed through on busy areas such as around edges of cupboard doors, handles and the edges of work surfaces. Then there is the build-up of human body oils which are present as darker regions around handles, finger grips and key escutcheons; and subtle variations in colour about the feet and plinth from a gradual build-up of both wax and dust, as well as in quirks, hard to access areas and tarnish-coated brassware such as handles, locks, hinges, escutcheons and castors etc.

Patina is an overall summation of all of these factors and more that gives a piece of furniture a warmth and character that no restorer or polisher can re-create in a short period of time. If you have anything like this, treasure it -it is the ultimate. Add to it, nourish it, but for goodness sake, try never to disturb it. Care must be taken to retain as much of the old as is possible. Disturb only if there is no other choice but to make repairs to polished surfaces because a piece of furniture must be workable and useful. Patina holds a fascination for the true collector wondering who once used this piece and what they were like. Did they care for this piece, or was it just a utilitarian piece? These years of use should not be lost, as it is like tearing pages out of a hook of history if the patina is removed.

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