While we see many examples of quite lovely modern furniture design today, nothing comes even close to matching the beauty of a fine piece of antique furniture. But, whether it is a Victorian burr walnut antique table, an Edwardian mahogany bookcase, or a Georgian oak chest of drawers, antique furniture requires its very own special form of care.
Caring for antique furniture means both ensuring that is remains functional and continues to grow in value over the years. To meet these aims, there are four things you need to take into consideration:
The sun can damage antique furniture very quickly, and you should always keep your antique furniture out of direct sunlight. Wherever possible, use curtains, or window shades, to block out direct sunlight or, at the very least, to diffuse it significantly.Antique bookcases placed near a window can be particurly vulnerable.
Direct heat will also damages furniture, causing shrinkage that will open up glue joints and lift inlays, veneers and marquetry. Keep furniture away from fireplaces, stoves, radiators and other heating appliances.
Moisture is another great enemy as far as antique furniture is concerned, and the biggest problem is not simply dry or damp air, but constant changes in humidity from dry to damp, and then back to dry again. Try to maintain the correct level of humidity around your furniture and, if necessary, use a humidifier or dehumidifier to achieve this.
Pest and Insect Control
Many of the materials used in the manufacture of antique furniture are very inviting to pests and insects and you need to be watchful, and to take action to stop pest and insect activity the moment it is detected.
The young of many beetles, and of termites, will move along the grain inside your furniture as they eat, and will make holes in the surface of the wood when they emerge as adults. Cockroaches will feed on dirt and grease that accumulates on the surface of your furniture, and deposit wood staining excrement as they do so. Finally, mice just love to nest inside upholstered furniture, and can often leave irreparable damage in their wake.
Cleaning and Polishing
One of the greatest myths about cleaning antique furniture, is that you must keep wood well oiled to stop it from drying out. In reality, applying too much oil will simply create a residue that attracts dirt, and degrades the finish on your furniture. Antique furniture will indeed dry out, not from a lack of oil, but rather from a lack of moisture.
The secret to polishing antique furniture lies in applying a thin coat of high quality paste wax no more than once a year, and then polishing regularly with nothing more than a damp cloth. You should avoid the use of silicone based polishes at all cost, as these can penetrate the surface of your furniture and cause considerable, and often lasting, damage.
Finally, do not forget your furniture’s brass and copper hardware. Over time handles, knobs and hinges will gain a soft patina, and many owners are tempted to polish them and return them to their former shining glory. Here you should leave well alone, and preserve the look that the years have given to what is, after all, an historic artefact.
Just like people, furniture can become frail with age and needs to be handled carefully. Try to avoid the temptation to constantly swap items of furniture around in your home and, if you do need to move an item of antique furniture, make sure that you know exactly what you are doing. If you are at all unsure, consult an expert, or employ the services of a profession mover.
Antique furniture can be both very beautiful and very valuable, and it needs to be cared for properly if you are to continue to take pleasure in owning and using it. If you follow the advice given here you cannot go far wrong and, if you need further information on the subject, then you can consult your local antique dealer.