Two antique restoration experts share the times they say calling in a pro is worth the expense.

By Caroline Biggs
November 19, 2020
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Credit: Dougal Waters / Getty Images

If you aren't already familiar with the kind of work professional restorers do, then now's the time to smarten up. "A professional restorer is an artisan who brings decorative objects, artworks, or furniture back to their original condition after showing signs of wear and tear from use, or after suffering damage, either structural or surface," says Jane Henry of Jane Henry Studios, a full-service antique conservation and restoration shop based in New York City. "The process entails surveying the piece, and choosing the most appropriate methods and materials to properly fix the item while maintaining its integrity."

While some furniture and décor items can be repaired at home DIY-style, others are best left for the professionals. "Improper alterations or repairs can adversely affect the value of an object," explains Brian Stair of Oxford Restoration in New York City. "A good percentage of the work that we do is undoing and redoing previous restorations."   

Curious what kinds of repairs you should always enlist the help of a professional restorer for? We asked Henry and Stair to share their advice, and this is what they had to say.

If it involves glue.

Whether it's a damaged veneer, broken ceramic object, or furniture joints in need of repair, Henry says if it involves glue of any kind, you should call a professional. "Repairs require the appropriate glue—as well as clamping and drying time—and if you use the wrong kind, it's not easily reversible," she explains. "If something is glued and is misaligned, it can cause an exponential amount of damage and will make a professional's fix far more time-consuming."

Stripping furniture.

If you plan on stripping the stain or finish off of a beloved piece of furniture by yourself, Stair says to stop and hire a professional restorer instead. "Vintage or antique furniture is almost always more valuable with its original appearance and components intact, and a professional restorer has the ability to determine the original materials used in the fabrication or finishing of an object," he explains. "However, you can generally clean and wax most furniture without damaging its antique value or aesthetic."

Cleaning or repairing artwork.

Don't let the online tutorials fool you. Henry says that it's crucial to enlist the help of a professional when cleaning, repairing, and restoring artwork. "Using a harsh chemical, or even applying too much pressure on a painting or work on paper, can remove particles of the original paint," she explains. "It can also leave a harmful and corrosive residue on the surface, resulting in potential further deterioration."

Stains on fine fabric.

If you're attempting to remove a stain from a delicate textile or upholstered item at home, Henry says to take it to a restorer instead. "Putting the wrong chemical on certain types of fabric and upholstery can damage the fibers, cause the stain to spread, or worse yet, lock the stain in," she explains.  

Color touch-ups on fine furniture.

While it may be tempting to touch-up the painted finish on a piece of antique or vintage furniture on your own, Henry says it can quickly backfire. "I have received pieces touched up with nail polish, wall paint, and sharpies, to name a few," she says. "These can leave permanent, or difficult to remove, stain or residue."

Family heirlooms.

Since most family heirlooms are truly irreplaceable, Henry recommends calling a professional restorer when you need to clean or repair one. "Even light cleaning can cause damage if done incorrectly, so if something is valuable, either sentimentally or because it is rare, it is always best to consult a professional," she says. "It may cost more than the object's monetary value, but your ancestors will smile upon you."

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