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Restore,Refinish, Repurpose or Redo?

Restore, refinish, repurpose or redo is a question that anyone who has ever acquired an antique has asked themselves. At what point does alteration devalue the piece and and where do you draw the line between what would be aesthetically pleasing , and what is appropriate to the provenance of it?
Pictured above is a Neoclassical, Parcel Gilt signed French Bergere'  that came from the time of the French Revolution. It has iris and carnations exquisitely carved into it, which represents the demise of King Louis XVI. I originally wanted to make it into a dog bed, then thought I would  repaint it, upholster it, and put it in the bedroom. But as I gently and slowly removed layers and layers of dirt, mostly coal soot, I began to uncover a lovely imperial red paint underneath the dirt. Some of the gilding has come off, you can see the  gilders' bole underneath but as each cleaning session reveals an even more brilliant shade of red, I know in my heart that this chair must remain as it was meant to be. Antique painted pieces need gentle cleaning to restore their brilliance.Once I have finished cleaning it, an appropriate fabric will be chosen for it.

And at that time, I will also send to the upholsterer this chair..a Louis XV Fauteuil which still has it's original horsehair stuffing and the ugly chenille upholstery I rescued it with. Yes, I said rescue. It was a 10 dollar find at a flea market which I bought simply to keep it away from Annie Sloan wannabe's. I could not bear the thought of someone slapping chalk paint, or worse, spray paint on the beautiful walnut. I had originally thought when I gave up the 10 dollars that it was 1850s, but the appraiser said it is 1700s. I am still not convinced, the plain chair crest is more typical of the 1850s.
Regardless,  I kept it because the dog loves it and for the moment,it sits in the tiny foyer as a place for my little dog to sit and look out the door, watching the world go by. I will upholster it in the same fabric I choose for the bergere and hopefully will be able to use the same bronze nail heads. They are a lovely rich bronze, with very,very long pins.
As for the fauteuil, the wood will NOT be refinished. Some wood polish is all it has gotten and all it will get.You cannot reproduce the wear and patina that comes with age on hardwoods, no matter how much dark wax and aging powder you apply.  It will never look authentic..unless it actually is.
I have upped the contrast on this photo considerably so you can see the beautiful aged patina of this wood. Don't you agree it would have been a shame to have covered that in chalk paint?

One rule of thumb for me with French furniture, is that if it was meant to be painted, the cabinet maker would have painted it in the first place.
So when IS it appropriate to paint an antique? Well the obvious answer is before it is an antique.There are many well constructed 20th century French style chairs that are greatly improved by persons talented in chalk or milk paint techniques. The 20th century chairs often have cheap industrialized finishes that beg to be covered up. One thing I never support is stripping and refinishing an antique. It immediately loses any value and the refinish is always obvious to the experienced eye. If the original finish is so bad that it cannot be restored with elbow grease and minor touch ups, then painting, preferably with  a traditional cassein paint is preferable to removing the old finish and restaining.
Last but not least, repurposing is more popular than ever. If you are going to actually alter a piece of furniture to use in a new fashion, say a damaged Empire chest becomes a diaper table in the nursery, calculate the cost of restoring it first. If it exceeds what it is worth professionally restored, then repurpose it. Otherwise you are throwing money away and destroying a piece of history in the process. If you don't know its' restored value, most cities have appraisers who give free verbal appraisals or find one online.
I hope this helps clarify when a piece should be painted, restored, repurposed, or left alone. Antiques add value to your home and generate a warmth that new furniture never can...

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