With some frequency, we’ll get calls from people wanting our counsel on the restoration of a furniture item. That’s actually an overstatement. If the queries could be boiled down to one simple inquiry, it is ‘Could you recommend a good restorer?’ The answer we provide, invariably, is an equivocal one- yes, we know lots of good restorers, but no, we can’t recommend one.
The why of this may mark us as inordinately cautious, but as with physicians, our aim is to do no harm. While we might in the short term satisfy an inquiry with a recommendation, we would rather risk an immediate disappointment by declining to provide information than risk the possibility of a larger one when the restored piece fails to satisfy the punter.
The simple truth is, ‘restoration’ in the antiques trade is at best an amorphous term. There exists no standard protocol, so what is meant, and in fact what we mean when we discuss restoration in describing our own stock varies with virtually every piece of furniture or period artwork we’ve ever handled- and the accomplishment of the restoration is always preceded by a considerable amount of palaver with the restorer(s). We have a number of people who work for us on projects, but the young man who is primarily responsible for putting our furniture pieces in good nick is a graduate cabinet maker, trained at the North Bennett Street School in Boston. He’s a talented carver, wood turner, and can do pretty fair marquetry. That said, we have never, ever just turned him loose on a project, nor would he want us to. As with my meeting with him this morning, we had to discuss the level of distress on a table top, whether to leave it as is or to ameliorate it, and if so, how much.
Our overriding restoration principle on period pieces is just enough to make it visually appealing, but not so much to occlude its age. Easy to say, but hard to accomplish given the myriad circumstances- with at least one new one arising with each piece we acquire- that make a standardized restoration regimen impossible.