Wise Ways to Keep Your Home Decor Looking Like New
"Where there is light, there is light damage"—that's the motto of former Smithsonian senior furniture conservator Don Williams. Minimize ultraviolet exposure, which degrades everything from upholstery to art. If your windows don't have a protective coating, draw the shades when you're away, or consider adding a self-adhesive UV-blocking film on the windows (we like Buy Decorative film).
Williams' advice echoes conservators everywhere who say that prevention is key when it comes to caring for and extending the life of your precious home décor. Long-lasting furniture and accessories start with quality materials and fabric, especially those in high-use areas like the living room and kitchen. When choosing a material for area rugs, for instance, "keep in mind that wool wears best," says Detroit Rug Restoration president and co-founder Edmond Hagopian. For high-activity areas, he recommends indoor-outdoor styles made of stain-resistant, durable polypropylene. But beware of viscose, which looks great but stains easily.
With the right pieces in place, longevity is all about regular cleaning and maintenance. For wood furniture, that means keeping moisture away and applying a fresh coat of protective paste wax once a year. For upholstery, it's vacuuming weekly—i.e., every time you do the floor—to pull the dust out. And for area rugs, you'll want to rotate them 180 degrees once a year to even out the wear. Preservation pros will also tell you that it's all about location, as even small amounts of humidity and light can cause irreparable damage to your decor.
Read on for more expert advice on keeping your favorite furniture, art, and accessories looking like new for years to come.
The largest threats to wood are direct sunlight and shifting humidity; both are a recipe for sticky drawers and splintered veneers. "The sun is a very focused source of heat," says Brooklyn antique-furniture restorer and custom finisher Christophe Pourny. "It dries up the joinery, creates cracks, and bleaches the color." Going from dry to damp and back again also causes joinery to loosen or tighten, warp, and, in extreme cases, grow mold. Then there's the human factor: Overloading a drawer or shelf will stress the slides and supports, and make the wood sag; letting spills (or drink rings) set erodes the finish. Even moving a piece improperly can leave nicks and splits—lift it all at once, rather than pushing or dragging.
The best way to protect your wood pieces? Two words: climate control. Keep your home's temperature and relative humidity stable: ideally 65 degrees and 40 to 50 per- cent, respectively. Monitor them with a combo thermometer-hygrometer from the hardware store, and if necessary where you live, run a dehumidifier in the summer and a humidifier in the winter to get the balance right. Then consider what you're storing, and redistribute it well. (Nope, all your hefty photo albums should not live in one drawer.) If you like to set your night serums on a bureau top, have glass cut to fit it, or add a tray or box. As for cleaning, all wood needs is weekly dusting with a clean, lint-free white cotton cloth. Remove any grime or stains you find with a mix of water and mild dish soap, or use a gentle cleanser that won't leave a residue; Martha's favorite is Pourny's Furniture Tonic.
Once a year, protect with a fresh coat of furniture paste wax, like Butcher's.
The usual gremlins—heat, sun, and humidity—wreak havoc on both frames and what's displayed inside. Active kids and errant elbows can also jostle them. "Humans are the greatest single source of damage to art," Williams writes in "Saving Stuff."
Consistent humidity is key to preserving contents and preventing delicate frame materials, such as gilding, from flaking or cracking. Also, think "location, location, location," Williams advises. Never hang art directly in line with air vents (which can blow dirt, even when filtered), on a wall that receives direct sun, or near a heat source, be it a radiator or a sconce. If you can feel the warmth of a lightbulb on a beloved print or photograph, it's too close. For added protection, ask about UV-blocking glazing when you get something special framed.
Brian Merriam Ancient Medicine 15, from $310, tappancollective.com
Fabric-covered furniture takes a beating all day, every day from humans and pets repeatedly sitting and sprawling on it—and, of course, that sun. Choose hardworking indoor-outdoor fabric when buying or re-covering pieces that invite wear and tear, like the movie-watching sofa. For items covered in less sturdy fabrics, close the curtains to curb fading, and protect the cushions your pets love to curl up on with a blanket. Vacuum weekly—i.e., every time you do the floor—to pull the dust out; take off the cushions and use the wand attachment to get into crevices.
"Dust is the enemy," says Daryl Calfee, vice president of marketing for luxury leather company Moore & Giles. Heat and sun are harmful too, but it's this lesser-known culprit that absorbs moisture and causes the material to dry out and crack.
Dust weekly with a clean, dry cloth, and every three to six months, treat oft-used items (like a coveted club chair) with a commercial leather cleaner, such as Leather Master. Place pieces at least two feet from heat sources, like vents and windows, and be mindful not to set magazines or newspapers on the cushions—ink can transfer, and getting it out is a job for a pro. Otherwise, blot spills immediately with a lint-free white cotton cloth (do not rub), then use a mix of three parts water to one part mild dish soap to wipe it away, and air-dry.
Try not to stress about scratches; over time, natural waxes and oils will camouflage them. Cared for properly, "leather wears in, not out," says Calfee.
Whether made out of paper or fabrics like linen and silk, they're world-class dust collectors, says Jamie Plunkett, owner of the Lampshader, in Glenview, Illinois. Years of heat from a bulb that's mere inches away bake on that grime. Now you know where those maddening yellow "water" marks come from.
Once a week, wipe them with a lint-free cotton cloth; use a lint roller for fabric. If dust remains, gently vacuum with the brush attachment or swipe with a clean, dry paintbrush (ideal for pleated shades). To prevent yellowing, switch to LED bulbs with a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin. They match the warm, amber light of an incandescent bulb but run cooler.
Bunny Williams Marbleized Lamp, in Black, $800, bunnywilliamshome.com
Tracked-in dirt and moisture and constant traffic are just the start. "We repair a lot of rugs damaged by hungry vacuums— and hungry pets," says Detroit Rug Restoration president and co-founder Edmond Hagopian.
Place a 3/4-inch rubber-backed pad underneath for protective cushioning, and try to keep shoes, plants, and food off. When accidents happen, blot what you can with a clean rag, and blot again with another rag and a little club soda. Then dilute a tablespoon of mild dish soap in a cup of warm water and apply it with a fresh rag or a toothbrush. Try not to rub, but if you have to, work gently and only in the direction of the nap. "I find that does the trick for most spills," says Hagopian. For red wine, blot away as much as you can, then sprinkle with salt to draw out more liquid. Maintenance is straightforward: Vacuum weekly on a high setting, removing the vacuum's beater bar if you can, since it can cause any twisted yarns to get pulled up and damaged. For smaller rugs: "Take them outside and hit them from the back with a tennis racket—you'll get a ton of dust out," says Hagopian. Once a year, rotate carpets 180 degrees to even out the wear.
Rifle Paper Co. x Loloi Nairi Rug, in Natural/Beige, from $190 for 2'4" by 7'6", loloi.com