by Alice Welch

Folks, in general, are becoming more knowledgeable about antiques these days. Sometimes, however, as happens in many fields, we gain just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and not enough to truly understand the impact of our words or deeds, as they relate to the original subject.

Very often, as folks enter my antique shop full of restored items, I hear the comment under their breath, "Oh, but you should never refinish anything. You destroy the value!" This is a notion that has been nurtured by our old buddy, the television set. As we sit in front of our sets absorbing what the "experts" are telling us, we fail to engage our brains and then begin to generalize, often an easy way to become an instant authority on any subject. As in most cases, we should qualify the information that we are hearing, and consider how it relates to various aspects of the subject.

When considering refinishing an antique, one needs to first know something about the origin and the vintage of the piece. Example: If you are fortunate enough to have a 17th or 18th century antique with the original finish still in tact, by all means, do not remove the finish. Find a professional to clean and carefully restore the piece, maintaining the patina that has developed through the years and enhanced the surface. The same goes for early country items with various shades of old paint or stenciling, showing years of wear and "care". Turn of the 20th century items, however, became victims of yearly, or even bi-yearly, varnishing sessions, making the finish many shades darker than the original, until, finally, the grain of the wood may have totally disappeared. These are the pieces that benefit from a professional (that being the key word) refinishing job. A thorough restoration includes authentic (another key word) repair, hand stripping, sanding, sealing, staining, finishing, hand rubbing and re-assembling - not a task for the weak hearted individual! A job well done with the many quality products available on today's market can produce a beautiful piece of furniture restored to it's original turn-of-the-century brilliance. In such cases, not only is the finish enhanced, but the value is greatly increased, as well. The degree of value enhancement is directly related to the quality of workmanship and the authenticity of the end result.

Alice Welch is the Owner/Manager of the Barn on 26 Antiques located on Route 26 in Gray, Maine. This year, 2005, is the 28th year for Welch at the Barn on 26.