About Hiring a Furniture Repair & Refinishing Service Provider

Does your prized baroque chair need restoration, without altering any of the original features? Do you refuse to get rid of your comfortable thrift store couch but admit it needs sprucing up? Will your bedroom finally be complete with the addition of a twin reproduction of your favorite antique bedside table? Or perhaps you have a piece that has survived fire or flood damage, a teething puppy, climate changes, or just general wear and tear. Before surrendering it into the hands of a professional, you should know a few things about it and the artisan who will repair, restore or conserve it.

Where Do I Start?

Before locating a professional, take the time to verify that your thrift shop bargain isn’t a priceless antique in disguise and your heirloom isn’t actually an ordinary reproduction. Inappropriate restoration of an antique can greatly compromise its value. Sometimes a seemingly simple repair can actually cause further, irreparable damage. So be sure to have your piece’s history and condition closely examined before allowing any work to be done on it.

Research on your piece should go beyond a consultation with the encyclopedia. Consult a professional—preferably several. Most professionals will visit your home to provide a price estimate and a detailed explanation of how your piece should be treated. Some professionals charge fees for on-site verbal and written estimates; others don’t. The average estimate will cost about $75 and will be deductible from the cost of the job (but check to be sure). Estimates should include the cost of labor, materials and transportation. You should also discuss how your piece will be insured and whether or not a warranty will be provided for the professional’s work and under what conditions.

Knowing the value of your piece is important not only in determining the type of work that it needs and how well it should be insured, but also how much to invest in the work. If your thrift store table simply needs its broken leg replaced, you may not want to pay top dollar for labor fees. However, if you’re concerned about transporting your original Louis XIV dining room table, you may opt to keep it at home and pay for a specialized professional to work on site.

On Cost

Many professionals base their fees on an hourly or daily rate that is subject to increase, depending on the condition of your piece, the work it needs and where that work takes place. As a general guideline, hourly rates can range from $45 to $150 and daily rates from $150 to $1,000. Be sure you receive a written contract for the amount of work agreed upon and the cost. If additional work is needed, the professional should notify you before taking action and a new fee should be agreed upon.

Choosing the Right Specialist For You

No licensing bureaus or governing boards regulate furniture restorers, so it is crucial that you take the time to find the right professional for your particular pieces. Although furniture restorers tend to be well versed in all styles and periods, each has a specialty. You wouldn’t take a broken toe to an allergist, nor would you want to take your japanned armoire to a caning specialist. Inquire about the professional’s area of expertise. For example, if your dining room table needs to be refinished, be wary of a craftsman who wants to use French polish and says you’ll be eating from your table within a day or two. French polish is typically saved for show pieces such as game tables and armoires and not used on surfaces that are prone to spills or burns. It is also a time-consuming process that requires numerous layers of shellac and alcohol to be applied, dried and rubbed before being reapplied. Keep in mind that moisture captured between the layers can cloud the surfaces irrevocably, so humid weather will prolong the process. Be patient because a good professional will not want to rush the process.

Also, be wary of a professional who is eager to refinish your Federal bureau, or any of your antiques. Much of the value of any antique is in its rarity, quality and condition, and its original finish is an important part of this. Be sure to find a professional who is as interested in preserving the unique qualities of your piece as you are.

Questions to Ask A Furniture Professional

Although your main contact will most likely be the firm’s principal, most firms have numerous employees, each with a different area of expertise. Be sure you know who is working on your piece and what they will be doing. The person who re-creates the leg of your table may not be the person who finishes it.

Don’t be afraid to ask about the employees’ educational backgrounds, including whether they’ve been trained in a particular style or period. Ask where they’ve worked and with whom. Also, ask to see their portfolio and to speak with numerous references. Make a point of speaking with the references. They know the work, and will tell you if actual fees exceeded the estimate, if the work took twice as long as expected or—the best scenario—if the work was beautifully done.

Furniture Care Tips

  • Protect furniture from direct sunlight, which fades colors, bleaches wood and clouds polished surfaces.
  • Avoid exposing to excessive heat, such as placing furniture near a radiator or setting hot objects upon the piece, as this damages surface coatings, veneers and underlying adhesive.
  • Place coasters on surfaces to protect from liquids, which can stain.
  • Wipe up water-based spills with a towel, but dab alcohol spills carefully to prevent spreading the spill; alcohol breaks down finishes.
  • Invest in a humidifier/de-humidifier to minimize large fluctuations of humidity.
  • Use a buffer when writing on a table top, as pens and pencils can cause unsightly indentations.
  • When moving furniture, lift by the strongest units or rails—never drag!
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