What is a period correct restoration?

May 16, 2012 by  
Filed under The inside scoop

I tend to throw around the phrase “period correct” and the other day one of my clients asked me exactly what that means. Sometimes I assume everyone knows what I am talking about. Well there is a big difference in standard furniture repair, furniture refinishing, and a period correct restoration. Although not many would make the distinction. This can especially be true amongst other repair firms.

When I was younger and just coming into this field of work I was always surprised that most of the guys working with me really paid no attention to the method of repairs that they actually were using. The general philosophy was “if it works to get a check then that is good enough”. While in some respects that is totally fine. In many cases the method of repair will vary from specialist to specialist however there can be no substitute for a period correct restoration.

So in a nutshell a period correct restoration job entails performing the actual repairs in the same method that would have been undertaken by the actual cabinet maker that built the piece of furniture or cabinet shop in the case of Victorian Furniture.
This would immediately rule out the use of any bondo or putty style fillers, Epoxy glues or modern nitrocellulose lacquers. Missing veneer requires the use of actual veneer in the repair. Broken dovetail joints having to be recut and glued without the use of epoxy or screws and nails. Old finishes would require either re-waxing or French Polishing, which ever is appropriate.

This approach to furniture restoration is obviously not necessary with most furniture. It is however the only correct method of restoration for period antiques. Anything less is only damaging the intrinsic value that all antiques have. In other words a newly refinished Federal chest that was in rough shape to begin with may look better now that it has been refinished, the veneer chips were all filled and touched up with bondo and the missing carvings replaced with casted epoxy resin but the character and value has been destroyed.

A period correct restoration takes patience, and a fidelity to the work of restoration but if the specialist takes the time to explain the importance of going the extra step and choosing as close to original as possible repair on period antiques the history will be preserved for future generations. It would be a real shame to lose all this wonderful history to hasty “restorations”. So the next time you hire someone to work on your furniture ask how they intend to approach the work. You may be surprised at their response.