Buying antique furniture has a dual appeal. Firstly, it is a pleasant experience filling one’s home with antiques and fine creations of craftsmen; secondly, it is the possibility of later financial gain because well-chosen antique furniture appreciates in value. Nothing adds more style & grace to your carefully maintained home than a fine antique, especially a carefully selected piece of antique furniture that’s both functional and beautiful. There are certain things to keep in mind when buying an antique:
- Choosing a style that you like and is compatible with other pieces you have
- Identifying reproductions as opposed to true antique and vintage items
- Finding something within your budget
Take your time looking around to decide exactly what would you would like to see in the space available. Antique French furniture made from imported woods such as mahogany, rosewood and satinwood tend to be more expensive than provincial furniture made from oak, walnut and cherry. The most important thing is to find something you like in the right size and style with a nice patina to the wood or paint. One of the most appealing things about antique furniture is the aged appearance of the material it is made from, this is something that can only be achieved by time and is impossible to reproduce. Excellent reproductions are available but tend to be less expensive due to this factor. Reproductions made from aged wood are also available, these pieces are usually of superior quality, often made using the old techniques and will endure in the same manner as quality furniture made 100+ years ago.
One way to identify antique furniture is by the imperfections that have occurred over time such as cracking, warping and signs of normal wear and tear. If a piece has been taken care of and kept out of the sun, all that is necessary is rubbing down with steel wool and a coat of beeswax. At the other end of the spectrum it might be necessary to rebuild a piece and completely strip the wood and refinish it. Beeswax is the preferred treatment for wood, it gives a natural lustre to the wood and can be re-applied sparingly to maintain the surface. Periodically it might be necessary to rub down the surface with steel wool and apply a tinted beeswax to treat minor blemishes.
A lot of antique furniture imported from Europe has suffered from worm damage resulting in tiny holes in the wood. In 99% of cases, the worms are dead and treatment eradicates them completely. The worm holes add a certain charm to the look of the wood but can be filled quite easily. Reproductions very often have fake worm holes, scratches, scuffs, glass rings, distressed paint etc. in order to mimic the very desirable look of an antique.
With the arrival of the internet, European antiques have become much more accessible to anyone living in the USA, it’s just a matter of finding what you want. Happy hunting!
French polishing is a method of wood finishing involving the application of many coats of shellac using a rubbing pad called a “fad”. Great skill is required in applying the shellac as different rubbing motions have to be employed to produce the required finish. Due to the labor-intensive nature of French polishing, its popularity waned in the 1930s when less expensive methods of finishing became available.
The technique is most often used for mahogany and other expensive woods. It produces a very hard, durable finish though it is sensitive to heat; the good news is that a surface that has a French polish finish can be repaired if damaged.
Shellac comes from the secretion of the female lac insect found in Assam and Thailand; the secretion is deposited on tree trunks so the insect can gain a sticky hold on the tree. The flaky secretion is harvested and dissolved in alcohol to produce a liquid form of shellac which can be applied to wood. The natural color is largely dependent on the type of tree sap consumed by the insect.