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What is Antique Restoration?

By Anna B. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Antique restoration is the process of refinishing an old home, furniture, art work, rugs, or tableware so that it appears in a state similar to when it was originally created. A piece must generally be older than 100 years to be considered an antique. The work of restoration is generally completed by a trained professional who attempts to use a combination of new and old materials to return the antique piece to its former condition of beauty.

This type of work is typically performed by a trained professional, known as a restorer or conservationist. These individuals may work as freelance contractors for private homes and artwork collections, or they may be employed by art and history museums. Their training typically includes a bachelor's degree in art history or a similar field, and a master's degree in art, history or museum studies. Museums also tend to require several years of experience in antique restoration and as an apprentice to a current professional before offering employment to new candidates. Their work in conservation may then focus on one specific area of expertise, such as restoring oil paintings, or reupholstering furniture.

The process of antique restoration typically includes multiple steps across a variety of skills. The finished product should be identical, or as close as possible, to its condition when made new, and also be functional without fear of causing damage. For example, restored chairs and beds can withstand weight and pressure, restored paintings can be hung for display, and restored homes may be toured. These many steps can includes replacing the finish on a piece of furniture or flooring, removing scuff and burn marks from surfaces, and replacing broken hardware such as hinges, bolts, and screws, among other things. When possible, the conservationist will use as much of the original materials of the piece available as possible.

Antique restoration is often completed by using new materials to replace portions of the antique piece that may be have been significantly damaged beyond repair over time. These materials must often meet certain criteria established by the museum or benefactor for whom the conservationist is working. Home restoration is usually restricted to the use of wallpaper patterns and paint colors that were available at the time the structure was originally built. Furniture may only be reupholstered in fabric patterns and thread contents that would have been popular at the time the piece was originally made. These guidelines allow the restorer to confidently recapture the look and feel of the piece as it would have appeared when new many years earlier.

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