Antique, or period, furniture has a distinct appearance. Yet, few pieces are truly pristine. If you come in possession of such a piece, the slightly dirty patina and dented hardware indicate that some restoration is essential. However, refurbishing antique furniture is not a uniform process, and a few points must be kept in mind.
When it comes to antique furniture, there are two approaches to restoration: modernizing it or retaining the period look. The latter typically requires less work, while the former can have a garish, jarring appearance – an amalgamation of period shapes and modern finishes and hardware. On a basic level, the antique furniture, to keep its period look, needs cleaning, new hardware, and perhaps a new finish. Either way, a less invasive approach is recommended for restoration, as changing the furniture too much can devalue it.
Finding antique-style hardware is a challenge, but finishing presents far more complications. Not all antique finishes are identical, and before you strip it and add a new one, determine if the existing one is shellac, lacquer, or varnish, or a custom, painted finish a craftsman would have specifically created. Dirt, on the other hand, may simply be obscuring the true look of the finish, and cleaning, first, is recommended, particularly with a non oil-based product. If the wood is still uneven after cleaning, a finish may be needed, and like a cleaner, the stain should not be oil based. Why avoid oil-based products? Although the effects may not be immediate, the surface may oxidize years down the line, taking on a mottled appearance.
Hardware is a particularly crucial aspect of antique furniture restoration, and not all handles, knobs, or pulls can be used with all pieces. Save for the precise fit, antique hardware has a distinct appearance, one reflecting the architecture of its day. While modern hardware tends to have a versatile, smooth look and feel, such a style seems anachronistic when placed against the period shapes, contours, and finishes.
A manufacturer and retailer of antique-style hardware, then, pays attention to these details. In many cases, the modern plates, handles, knobs, and other hardware are specifically cast from period designs. Period dies and techniques assist with creating the specific look.