Frank B. Rhodes | FurnitureMaker Reproduction and Restoration of Traditional American Furniture Since 1983 Chestertown, Maryland | 410.778.3993


Antique Conservation Questions:

1. What kind of examination do you conduct to determine what needs to be fixed and how best to do it?

A. First I try to examine the entire piece and figure out what needs to be fixed and what should be left alone. Generally I suggest re-gluing loose parts, especially feet and carcass joints, which if failure occurs could cause the piece to collapse and do further damage. Hide glue is the choice of conservators, since it was an 18th century medium and is reversible. Warm water will loosen it for removal, loosening up a stubborn joint or simply reuniting the original.

Loose veneer banding is another issue that often arises. The banding tends to split and cup at those splits and clothing or a dusting cloth will easily pull it off. In my opinion if it has to be replaced the value decreases verses a simple re-glue.

Regarding finishing work; I have turned down countless pieces that people have wanted refinished. First it removes the original patina and beauty. Second it will devalue the piece. Thirdly a bad decision in refinishing could come back to haunt me. Generally there are ways to determine if a piece has been recently refinished. From the 50’s to the 80’s many pieces of 18th century furniture have been refinished. If we feel this was the case I explain it to the customer and if they insist on refinishing a previously refinished piece we document the invoice. I will seek out a second opinion from another professional if there is any doubt.

In 1993 I attended a book signing by Leigh and Leslie Keno. Their book Hidden Treasures is a wonderful addition to my library. I had a tea table with a suspected replacement top that was refinished and needed a second opinion. After mentioning it to them at the signing I patiently waited at the hotel exit. My van was next to their limo for their trip to NYC. Thirty seconds of their time gave me an answer. It was probably replaced and not the correct style for the base.

2. What do you do if a part cannot be repaired? In other words, at what point does the restoration become a reproduction?

A. I attended a Sotheby’s seminar on furniture conservation in the early 80’s and remember a comment that was made regarding replacing missing parts. For example, if I had a federal chest with French feet and one was missing than it should be replaced unfinished. Understandably one does not want to pass off a replaced foot as original, which is done a lot, but is kind of like seeing a car with a replaced door or a panel of a different color. To me this looks incongruous. I finish the outside to match and leave the inside unfinished or document on the bill of lading that this replacement was made. I generally return broken pieces that to the customers, so they still have the original. Sometimes old parts can be attached to a chest or table in an inconspicuous place. We have left old parts inside of upholstered easy chairs and sofas.

3. Are you always able to find suitable materials for the repair, like certain species of wood?

A. Yes with proper research and adequate sources, a conservator should be able to find the suitable materials for repair.  Old wood, certain species of wood, brass replacements, proper upholstery techniques and general restoration supplies can be found.

4. How long does the process take, from evaluation to finishing?

A. In my opinion it is generally impossible to tell a customer how much the job will cost or how much time it will take to complete.  Our shop has an hourly rate. We have detailed documentation including photographs of work completed for each job. Progress reports along with photos are sent to customers several times during the conservation.

5. Once a piece has been repaired, does that increase or decrease its value as an antique? Which then begs the question, is it better to repair an antique or leave it as is?

A. I think an antique chest is worth more with a replaced foot rather than a crutch for support, but original finishes should be preserved. Common sense and good second opinions help to base our decisions.

Upholstery Questions:

1. Is my chair or sofa worth reupholstering? Considering the following will help you decide.

A. Is this a family heirloom, mother’s chair, grandmother’s table?

B. How much does it mean to you? Does it just fit in that room or space?

C. Is it old or an antique?

D. How much would a new piece of similar quality (if it can even be found) cost now?

2. Will my chair be as comfortable as when it was new?

A. Yes, it will be as comfortable as the original or we can build in “custom comfort” to your specification. If you want more firm support or softer down cushions we can do that as well.

3. Where will I get the fabric/ what should I choose?

A. We have thousands of patterns and types of fabric from numerous manufacturers to choose from. We will assist you in choosing the right color, design and wear ability fabric for your furniture, whether it will be in your home or office.

4. I have an antique chair with very worn fabric and sagging springs, can it be helped without losing it's 'antique' value?

A. Yes, we can carefully remove the fabric, and if needed the springs and webbing from the bottom, then re-web the bottom and retie the springs. We will replace the original padding and if necessary strengthen the old worn fabric with a backing material, then reapply it. The new material will not show but will give added strength to the old piece.

5. What is involved in reupholstery of my chair or sofa?

A. Determine how much needs to be done. Is the frame loose (do arms or legs move?) If the frame needs repair we must then remove all fabric and padding at least in the area to be repaired. We will then tighten joints, add glue blocks as needed, or repair and strengthen broken wood.

B. Are the springs sagging or poking up? If this is the case we will remove the old webbing or ties as necessary and replace what is needed with your original springs.

C. From this point we will build up the foundation of the seat and back either with the original padding, hair, etc. or add new as needed.

D. Now we are ready for the new fabric. We will use your cushions but can add additional down or padding as required.

Refinishing and Repairing Questions:

1. Is my furniture worth refinishing or repairing?

Considering the following will help you decide.

A. Is this a family heirloom, mother’s chair grandmother’s table?

B. How much does it mean to you? Does it just fit in that room or space?

C. Is it old or an antique?

D. How much would a new piece of similar quality (if it can even be found) cost now?

2. I have an antique that is not in extremely poor condition but is dull, scratched a bit, with loose or missing veneer can you help?

A. Yes, we can repair and replace missing veneer, clean up the finish and brasses, this will not devalue your piece at all but will make it a more enjoyable piece of furniture to use.

3. My table has watermarks or stains on the top but the legs are in good shape what should I do?

A. Some times we can remove water stains without refinishing, that will depend on the original finish and how bad the stain is. We can also refinish just the top of your table if the legs don’t need refinishing.

4. Will my furniture be the same color?

A. We can make it the same color as before or we can make it different that will be your choice. We like to use natural colors to let the beauty of the wood show, we will then try to use a finish appropriate to the period of your piece and the use it will receive.

5. Can you remove the paint from my bedroom set and give it a wood finish?

A. That will depend on whether it was originally painted or finished. If it was finished the paint will usually come off all right, but if it was painted on bare wood it would be best to leave it or repaint. Also if the paint is lead based or very old “milk” paint it is very difficult to remove and often not worth the time it would take.

6.What is the best way to handle water and smoke damage to my furniture and who deals with the Insurance adjuster.

A. Fire and flood damage can be devastating, and care should be taken care when working with your insurance company’s adjuster. Try not to make hasty decisions about the disposal of your furniture. We prepare estimates for customers to submit to the insurance adjusters and work directly with the customer. Sometimes smoke and water damage may look worse than they actually are and the pieces only need to be cleaned to remove soot and/or smoke odor rather than completely refinished. We can help you so you can choose to clean, repair, refinish, or replace. Click here for more tips on handling water damage.