Caring for antique furniture is a little different from caring for your regular, more recently made furniture. It has survived many years, and it has a history. That history is not just related to who made it, and when, but also encompasses such factors as who used it and where. The history of usage also affects the condition of a piece, and by now owning that piece, you become a link in that chain. The piece that you own might have been handed down through generations in your family, or maybe you lovingly purchased it. As you look for ways to care for it, know this: applying new finishes or changing how it looks can impact its value, and storing or using it carelessly can impact how long it lasts. Take a look at some tips to help you care for your antique furniture:
- Avoid placing in direct sunlight. While UV or ultraviolet light can damage any furniture, antique furniture is more prone to it. Sunlight can damage the wood and fabrics, and turn clear finishes to yellow or opaque. Curtains or shades may help in a room that gets too much sun.
- Avoid placing your antique furniture in front of heating and air conditioning vents. Keep it away from other heat sources such as radiators, fireplaces or stoves to prevent shrinking that can result in loose glued joints, veneers, inlays and marquetry.
- Avoid too much change in the level of humidity because changes in relative humidity can cause wood to expand and contract. Not only does this affect joints as much as temperature changes, changes in the moisture level can also lead to mold growth and even insect infestation. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier to minimize damage.
- Avoid storing in hot, dry areas such as an attic. The lack of moisture can damage your antique furniture.
- Check for insect infestations which can be identified by small holes and fine sawdust under the piece of furniture. Isolate that piece and get professional help to prevent further damage and the risk of infesting other pieces.
- Dust with a soft, lint free cloth on a regular basis. Use a slightly dampened cloth turning it frequently to prevent scratches. If your furniture has a finish that is deteriorating, consult a professional. Any cleaning or waxing can be detrimental.
- Avoid using furniture oils or silicone based polishes since that can lead to the deterioration of the finish over time and residue from the oil may attract dust and dirt build up. If your finish is in good condition use a coat of high quality paste wax to maintain a varnished surface and provide protection from moisture and dust. A thin coat once a year or so should be sufficient.
- Avoid stripping or removing the finish the finish on your antique furniture is as important as the furniture itself. By removing the original finish, you damage the patina and the any signs of wear which indicate a piece’s history. Once that is removed, it is gone for ever taking away from the historicity of your piece.
- If you need to enhance the appearance of antique furniture or restore the existing finish, it is best to consult a professional restorer. This is not a job for an amateur, as you may end up doing more harm than good. On the other hand proper restoration can actually increase the value of your antique, while enhancing its appearance.