Antique Furniture Chairs
"The thing to remember, " Karen says, "is that the finish in a piece of wood either adds to its value or takes it away." How can owners of antique furniture preserve their finishes—and the value of their antiques?
"Most collectors and dealers say you let it be, " Karen says.
Faded Is Fine
The reason to leave antique paints and stains as they are, she says, is that collectors of antique furniture want their pieces to remain as close as possible to how they were originally, which often included a coat of paint.
"Pine country furniture from the 18th century used to be painted blue or a barn red, " Karen says. "People think they have to get it down to the original wood. They don't know that in this period people were very vibrant in their use of colors in decoration."
Over time, paint oxidizes. This fades the paint and gives it a mellow look, Karen says. This "dry" look, which is visible in this 19th-century child's potty-chair, is what antique furniture collectors desire.
Even if the paint dries to the point that it begins to crack, it's better left alone. "A little bit of craquelure is absolutely acceptable and gives you a feeling of comfort that it's original, " she says. "But beware. There are forgers that can work with heat and can create a craquelure that is not original." Faked craquelure (pronounced "kra-kloor") — a term referring to old, cracked paint — is usually more uniform on the surface of the paint, Karen says, while genuine craquelure is less consistent.
Antique furniture owners need to resist what the owner of this 19th-century chair did. "Somebody has ... put this very bright lacquered finish on the top of it, which is not a look that painted furniture collectors like to see, " the Skinner executive says.
Avoid Oils on Wood
Many antique pieces, however, were originally stained rather than painted. In the 18th and early 19th centuries many pieces of American furniture were built with domestic woods such as maple or cherry and then stained to make them look like mahogany, which was imported from foreign shores, and therefore considered more exotic and valuable.
Today, some owners make the mistake of oiling stained woods. "Oil is very bad for wood, " Karen says. "It soaks into open grain and oxidizes and can turn the wood black. A good example is my kitchen floor." Karen has used Murphy Oil Soap on her floor and the oils in the product have turned the wood black wherever the floor's varnish was gone.