Restoring the beauty of a piece of furniture

Bruno Barbon offers customers reliable and meticulous restoration work, the methodology of which varies depending on the period, type of wood or other material in which many antique pieces of furniture were created. On performing restoration work, careful attention is paid to the origins of the piece, working to restore its ancient splendour by means of preservation techniques performed solely by hand, with period materials and natural products such as organic glues, beeswax and shellac.


The phases of the process

Cleaning. The first phase of restoration is undoubtedly the cleaning. Work is performed protecting the original paint and the patina as far as possible, proceeding gradually and trying mild solvents to begin with. The paint can no longer be recovered when the condition of the piece is particularly bad or when there is an intention to apply a different finish to the existing one, the paint is removed using alcohol, synthetic paint removers or caustic soda.

Woodworm treatment. Should the piece of furniture be infested with woodworm, suitable anti-woodworm treatment using a liquid is performed. It is applied using a syringe or a brush and owing to its characteristics, it penetrates deep into the wood, allowing it to reach even the insects that are deep down.

Consolidation.  As the name suggests, this is the work performed to restore normal solidity to a material the structure of which has been compromised owing to processes of deterioration. Consolidation is performed by impregnating the material itself with a liquid substance that re-establishes the inner cohesion of the material as it solidifies. The substances used are of natural origin like animal glue, beeswax or natural resins.

Correction of deformations. Deformations are the result of natural and continuous strain owing to expansion or shrinkage of the fibres of the wood, mainly owing atmospheric changes (humidity, heating, etc.) and use of poor or unseasoned materials. Deformations are not always to be corrected, so it is necessary to check whether the deformation will compromise functionality: slight imperfections contribute to the charm of the antique.

Reconstruction. In many cases, there is a need to reconstruct parts of the piece of furniture because they are missing or are two badly damaged to allow ideal recovery. The new parts are carved using wood of the same type and often of the same period, following the style and form of the piece and applying them with period glues like animal glue in order to maintain the original construction technique as far as possible.

Filling. This allows small surface imperfections to be corrected, such as woodworm holes, nails and small cracks. Wax filler is ideal for furniture that will be wax finished. Shellac filler is used in fine furniture that will be French polished: it is ideal for sealing small cracks or holes, even deep ones, as once it is dry, it becomes extremely hard and does not shrink. Classic filler is the quintessential filler and is made of bone glue heated in bain-marie, in which gesso di Bologna and coloured clay are dissolved.

Staining. The art of staining wood has been known since ancient times, since the era of the Egyptians and Persians. By contrast to painting, staining allows the wood to be given the desired colour without having the covering effect of paint and emphasizing the patterns of the grain, of the texture of the fibres and the knots. The shade must be compatible with all the other materials involved in the restoration work: glues, fillers, waxes or shellac.

Finishing. This is the last phase in the process, which will give the piece of furniture its final appearance; it is therefore performed with the greatest care. There are various types of finishing, based on the period of the piece and the tastes of the customer: wax polishing is probably the oldest known method of finishing and bestows the piece of furniture with a semi-gloss, satin finish. French polishing bestows the piece of furniture with a level of shine that is unattainable with other polishes, best restores veneered furniture, furniture on which “lastronatura” has been applied (a technique very similar to veneering but usually with slightly thicker slices of wood) or in any case furniture with fine workmanship. Gilding consists in applying fine pure gold leaf to the piece and is used principally for frames, ornamentation, statues and detailing on pieces of furniture. Lacquering is a technique that consists in covering the piece of furniture with a resinous substance – lacquer – and gives the painted decorations depth.