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Furniture Restoration – Bringing Vintage Pieces Back to Life

The charm of vintage furniture is the imperfections, every scrappy ding and dent telling its own let go of the culture of throw-away living, which includes restoring things rather than replacing them.

Applying wipe-on wood stains to furniture is generally easier for DIY enthusiasts than treating them with brush-on paint, but it’s still a process that demands getting up close to see the contours of wood grain and knowing when and where to apply the stain in thin layers.

Identifying the Problem

Whether professional or amateur, all furni­ture restorers seem to have in common the drive to make an old piece vital again, by restoring it. Obviously, though, the first question that has to be answered before any repair work or cosmetic enhancement is undertaken is: is it even worth saving?

The process of considering furniture involves looking very closely and assessing what condition that piece is in and what its ‘potential’ is and whether that ‘potential’ can be adequately fulfilled.

Curb furniture is a thrilling and unpredictable hunt; but if you end up adopting a random piece or two, try colour-matching your newly acquired stain to an existing sample, or use Howard‘s Restor-A-Finish to darken reddish or orangy pieces.

In addition to its environmental footprint, there is an environmental impact of restoration. MDF (medium density fibreboard) and other cheaper woods in new furniture result in toxic chemicals off-gassing caused by the manufacturing process – known as off-gassing in interior design – which can result in headaches or nausea. Buying repurposed furniture decreases the waste of soft furnishings currently going directly to landfills.

Repairing the Damage

Regardless of whether we have a sentimental attachment to or great financial pride in our heirloom furniture, many old pieces should be repaired rather than replaced. In many places it’s possible to replace a dining table with an entire set of chairs from even a discount retailer by spending a little less or even the same as it would cost to repair and refinish the entire thing yourself.

In terms of saving money as well as avoiding environmental wastage, it seems reasonable to restore old furniture. 1000 times as much carbon emissions are implicated in the production of mass-produced furniture.

Authentic restoration in the tissue of an icon is a work of love that requires time and experience; its real value and exciting history rests in its original patina and soul. Thus any change or reduction of style, tone and colour diminishes its financial worth: this is another reason why it’s helpful to have a restoration outline plan in place before you start.

Refinishing the Wood

Restoring furniture is a very difficult and time consuming task. However, it leads to very good results. Restoring old wood furniture is done to enhance its look and feel, but it also increases the stability of the piece.

Step one of do-it-yourself furniture refinishing is a guessing game: look out for scratches, stains, wear-and-tear and colour; check its colour against an unused portion; look for changes to the furniture since your last inspection; and keep an eye out for everything else.

There are some dealers and antiques connoisseurs who argue that refinishing wooden furniture would impact on its monetary value, whereas some would argue that this course of action helps an item to live longer and acquire a new role in a home.

If you are refinishing a wood piece of furniture, you would always go for wipe-on furniture stains, since they are easier to apply, and dry soon, without causing drips or brush strokes.


Reupholstery is a great way to spruce up a piece of furniture without breaking the bank. As long as the frame is sturdy, and you choose a durable fabric that will hold up well to frequent use, go ahead and update its look by adding skirts and changing its colour palette.

A professional upholsterer’s sense of comfort and support might be improved by foams and cushioning fabrics – and reinforcing your piece’s frame might be necessary, depending on the condition of your springs. You’ll notice how the professional folds every edge of the fabric and tacks all of the edges securely in place for neat corners.

Restoring a piece of vintage furniture can be ambitious and time-consuming, but it is a task not to be misjudged. Stepping by step, slowly but with tender care, every upholstered old piece can return to life.