Surprisingly one of the most important factors in looking after your furniture is where you put it in your home. When placing items choose carefully. Although the aesthetics of placing furniture is of course important to us all, it is also well worth thinking about which position would be best for the long term health and prosperity of your item. The following are some thoughts that I can pass on to you, that I think your furniture would ask for if it could speak for itself!
I would always keep furniture away from radiators or heated pipes. The heat dries out the timber and the glue, causing it to move and crack. Also keep items out of direct sunlight or the sun’s rays even in Winter. If you have no option but to place in sunlight please change it’s position or rotate periodically so bleaching is even across the item.
I would strongly recommend that you don’t place any valued furniture in a conservatory. Apart from the direct sunlight damage, the problem with conservatories is that the temperature is difficult to regulate going from very hot to very cold in short spaces of time and this all affects the wood.
If you can, keep your heating levels throughout your home steady, particularly in the winter, something that I know isn’t always easy in Normandy. If for example you only use your dining room periodically then I would recommend keeping the heating on low all the time. Leaving it off and then blasting it with heat when your guests are due causes untold problems.
Whilst we are on the subject of dining room furniture, could I recommend that all guests, young and old are asked not to lean back on dining room chairs. In ‘olden times’ when the chairs were made the backs were only added as decoration, not to be leant on and the more elaborate the back the more wealthy the owner (supposedly!)
If you would like to reupholster your drop in seats on your Dining room chairs, I would suggest that you have them done professionally. Whilst it is tempting to simply choose a new material and place it on top of the present upholstery yourself, this in the long term will weaken the chairs by pushing the joints apart and making the framework loose. The old upholstery should be removed and the seat re-done in its entirety for the best result.
Even though the timber in your furniture may have been cut down two or three hundred years ago it’s still a ‘living’ object and will shrink and expand with the different temperatures and this affects the joints and particularly any inlay work and veneers, causing it to lift and restoration to be required. If you can, place bowls of water in each room that has antique furniture. This replaces the moisture in the air that central heating takes out. Central heating, French doors and conservatories were not around when your furniture was made, but they make a huge difference to it now.
Always place vases of flowers on a waterproof plate as placing directly on table with doily or cloth could lead to a watermark if there was any leakage. The same applies for candles as candle wax dropped on furniture causes damage that can only be repaired with professional restoration.
Use a protective mat when using items such as Dining room table to lean on to write, as ballpoint pens will indent in the wood. Protective mats are also recommended for dinner parties as they not only protect your table from accidents but are also heat proof. Protective mats are cut to size to fit your entire table and then placed underneath your tablecloth.
When dusting furniture, use only a dry duster and dust with the grain. Using a cleaning spray with silicone in it (such as Pledge) makes restoration harder as the silicone acts as a waterproofing agent that is very hard to remove. Dusting with the grain lessens the risk of damaging the polish from scratching.
What I should also mention is that all furniture should be lifted when being moved where at all possible and not dragged as this places extra stress on the joints. If it’s not possible then try and push at the bottom of an item to minimise the damage.
To protect your furniture and keep it looking good you can wax your furniture yourself. Do this only once a year and don’t over wax your item as it would feel greasy. Whilst you would probably only wax the outside of any other item, with a chest of drawers if you wax the drawer runners and guides it will help them run smoothly . Also try not to overload your chest of drawers. They weren’t designed to hold photo albums, books and CD’s that seem to end up stored in them nowadays!
If you see woodworm do get it treated as soon as possible. The longer it is left the worse the damage to your item. If your item has been treated then afterwards don’t place heavy items on top as the structure will have been weakened even if the woodworm has now gone.
Always protect your furniture from lamps or clocks with sharp edges on the bases with baize. I would always recommend a toughened glass top for an item of furniture. These are an inconspicuous way to protect your furniture very well.
If you have an item with brass handles or brass work, could I recommend that you don’t use ‘brasso’ or similar products to clean them. The ammonia within these products will break down the finish of any French polish.
I’ve been running my own business for 21 years and whilst I celebrate this I still receive many a phone-call from people needing restoration work carried out on their furniture that if they had known these few simple tips they would not be needing me now. So why am I passing this advice on?
‘…because Antique Furniture is my passion’.
If you have any queries at all please don’t hesitate to call. I would be more than happy to help in any way I can.
Antique Restorer – Maître Artisan Ebéniste Restaurateur
26 years experience in Traditional Antique Restoration and French Polishing
Le Mesnage, 50410, Montbray, Manche, France
Telephone: 02 33 90 99 41
Antique restoration website: www.simonlorkin.com
Dashboard restoration for classic cars website - www.classicdashboards.com
Established in England in 1991 and then re-established in France 2005