How to know when furniture is worth restoring

Close up of wooden rocking horse face

While some eagle-eyed furniture experts peruse auctions or second-hand shops for promising pieces of furniture, others inherit or rescue items unexpectedly. Perhaps you’ve come across a chair, table, dresser or cabinet and you simply don’t know whether it’s worth investing in. Or maybe you’ve purchased or rescued some chairs, or a sideboard, which you want to creatively revamp or upcycle. How can you make sure you’re not about to commit a horrific crime against furniture history?


The first thing, then, is to assess the value of the furniture in question. Beware, as the value of a piece can be decreased with cosmetic intervention. 


Take a good look at the piece of furniture. List the materials which feature – what type of wood is it made from? Are there marble or ivory drawer pulls? These are vital clues as to whether the piece has undergone restoration in its previous life.


Your next list should take into account damage to the furniture. This will help you work out what you need to undertake and can help in deciding the future of the furniture. 


Do you know the history of this piece of furniture? Has it been passed down in your family? What maker marks are visible on the furniture? Have a good look, as this can be pivotal in the question of value. 


Finally, although a thorough Google search may give you an idea of the calibre of your furniture unless you’re certain that the piece is unremarkable, take it to a professional. This will not only help you to understand your furniture but will also guide you in whether restoration will help or hinder the value of the furniture.  


You may enjoy the very unique look of an aged piece of furniture, and regardless of value, prefer its existing state to that of a shiny restored piece. Even in this circumstance, your furniture will benefit from a good clean and refresh. Over time, furniture, whether wooden or metallic will develop a ‘patina’ – signs of age in the material. More often than not, this adds to the aesthetic appeal of the piece. So when giving the furniture a ‘good clean’, be extremely careful that in cleaning you do not damage the furniture. Avoid chemical cleaners and everyday commercial polish sprays. These will damage the original finish of the wood. If the piece requires a little glue to keep it functional, then this is a good course of action since it will improve the longevity of the item. 

Restore or Revamp?

The question here is the level of intervention in the furniture from when it was originally constructed. To be a restoration, the aim is to restore the piece of furniture to its original state. So the finish should not be altered, and the shape should remain unchanged. To revamp, then, is more in the world of the ‘upcycling’. So your aim with the furniture is to give it an entirely new character. The danger with a revamp is that you can irretrievably lose value in the piece. So be certain that your project holds no historical or monetary value.

Reasons to Restore

So, what are the reasons that many of us choose to restore our chairs, tables or dressers? There is a huge joy in seeing a piece of furniture in the condition it was when it was first crafted. This is the antithesis of the throwaway society. Through the restoration, the furniture will last for many more generations to come. However, true restoration is notoriously tricky in untrained hands. Furniture may have missing parts, points of damage that need to be patched up and very specific finishes that are hard to match. This is why furniture restoration is such a craft, and well worth pursuing along professional lines for that ‘wow’ factor!

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