Over 100-year-old furniture saved by passionate specialists

I told you in the article about refurbishment and restoration of furniture that it's best to call in the experts if you have old, valuable furniture and want to give it a new lease of life. In the meantime, I've found the best example to back up my claim: a piece of lounge furniture Chippendale more than 100 years old. It was inherited from grandparents by a family eager to keep it, but for objective reasons they could not keep it in very good condition. When they finally had the space they needed, they were unpleasantly surprised to see that the furniture had deteriorated quite badly and decided they needed specialists to save it.

old furniture

They searched the net for a firm that would convince them and that's how they ended up with SaveMob. They contacted them and they came, saw the furniture, assessed the situation and told them what could be done. It remained for them to think about it and give an answer. It didn't take them long to make up their minds because they really wanted that furniture and the company gave them confidence. And so began the long and difficult process of rescuing an old and valuable piece of furniture.

First came the transport guys who took each piece, each more or less damaged piece, inventoried them, noted the details of where they came from and other such details, loaded them on the truck and brought them to the workshop in Bucharest.

old furniture

At the workshop, the inventory was taken again and work began. The pieces were carefully analysed and it was discovered that they were heavily attacked by decay, some of the pieces were even compromised.

old furniture

There were also some parts - chest or chair legs - that simply could not be rebuilt, and the only solution was to replace them.

old furniture

The next stage was to clean the furniture down to the wood, unclamp and re-clamp it and repair all defects and delaminations. Carved ornaments that could be detached were carefully cleaned so as not to damage the carving. Everything was brought to the clean wood stage, at which point the traces of the carving were even more evident.

old furnitureThus, "stripped" of the varnish coating, the pieces were first treated against decay. I say first time because the operation was repeated several times, at intervals of a week, to make sure that all the larvae were killed. To do this the pieces of furniture were loaded into a truck that could be sealed and sprayed with concentrated anti-caries solution until saturation. Then the truck was closed and the furniture stayed in that environment until the next day.

old furniture

For a week, all the curry holes were grouted, repairs and gluing were done and missing parts were copied and fitted in place. At the end of the week the antique treatment was resumed and the furniture pieces were left in the truck all weekend.

old furniture

Colouring followed. Originally the furniture was black so the look was kept. To get a deep colour, sepia ink was used, as it was coloured in the past. This is that natural dye that cuttlefish release when they are attacked or detect a periwinkle. The dye is intense and stains the wood almost covering the grain. When it dries it turns a bluish grey colour that turns black when varnished.

old furniture

Ready stained, the furniture arrived back on the truck for another weekend of antique solution. And more checking and grouting to make sure no holes or maggots escaped.

old furniture

And then it was time to varnish, which was done with shellac to obtain that special sheen of yesteryear. It's not easy to work with and few people still know the old techniques. Fortunately the company benefits from the services of a specialist in the field, Mr Iulian Burcică, who has worked for more than 30 years at the Doina musical instrument factory, specialising in piano restoration. Mr Iulian is retired, 69 years old, but continues to restore pianos and valuable furniture. He happily comes to work and tries to pass on the baton. He has promised not to retire before preparing a successor. I told him at one point that I'm sure he knows lots of stories about the furniture and pianos he rescues. "Romane," she replied. We decided to get together as soon as possible to sit and chat.

old furniture

But let's get back to applying shellac. For those who don't know, shellac is a natural varnish made from the resin secreted by an insect - lac - found in India and Thailand. The resin is dissolved in various proportions in ethyl alcohol. Shellac gives a very beautiful look to furniture, only the application technique is difficult and demanding. And when the wood is stained black, a very fussy colour, it is even more difficult. Many consecutive coats need to be applied to achieve the mirror shine.

old furniture

The Chippendale salon needed 60 coats of varnish and over 200 hours of work. To achieve the desired result, the varnish was applied in continuous circular motions using a sham (a ball of cotton and wool wool put in a finet cloth). It started with thin layers, increasing slightly in thickness with each layer. The circular movement must not be stopped because otherwise a dent appears in that place. After each layer the lacquer was allowed to dry and then sanded by hand. This is how all the pieces of the salon were made and there were not a few.

old furniture

After many weeks of 1,000 hours of actual work for the salon, everything was ready. The owner was sent photos to see the result and was also invited to the workshop. In fact, this is the way SaveMob works. The client can drop by the workshop at any time to see the intermediate stages of the restoration and at the end, the furniture does not leave until the owner gives his consent. When the OK is received the furniture is packed and transported to the customer's home. Here it is also unpacked and fixed in place by the firm's employees. This is what happened with the Chippendale salon and the owners were delighted to be surrounded by furniture that reminded them of their childhood.

old furniture

photos in the article are property of SaveMob

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


Add a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Good day Mrs Radu,
    I am impressed with the information you make available to those interested in wood art.
    I am 72 years old - shipbuilding engineer, 36 years professor at the Mircea cel Batran Naval Academy in Constanta, but I discovered this passion relatively late, after several projects of wooden yachts.Since then I am interested in everything that means tradition in the art of wood.
    I had an early experience when I restored a piece of dining room furniture - two display cabinets, extending table and chairs - made in Vienna around 1914.I had a hard time with the reconditioning with shelac.Brief information from French websites.But all referred to their materials.
    I have achieved something, but now when I saw your articles I realized that I am not alone in this passion, and certainly there are many others unknown.
    By chance I discovered this magazine and the articles in its contents, but I didn't understand if the magazine is only available online or if I can buy it or subscribe.
    I hope you didn't bother too much with what you wrote.
    Professor Asimit Teodor.

    • Hello,
      You haven't bothered at all. On the contrary, I enjoyed it. The magazine is online only. There will be a printed edition - an annual collector's edition - which will appear on the occasion of the BIFE SIM Bucharest furniture fair held from 13-17 September. The magazine will be distributed free of charge during the fair.
      In the online magazine the articles appear daily. Yesterday I wrote about shellac. Find here article.
      And about boats we had articles. You have here if here two of them.
      I hope you find interesting information in the magazine and keep following us.
      All the best!

  • The connoisseur who owns such furniture, who knows its value and is willing to pay a fortune to refurbish it, does not realize that his stored pieces are deteriorating. I understand it's an introduction to the text, but I'm surprised. Sorry, I couldn't help myself, it's not malicious.

  • All respect Mrs. Mihaela Radu for the help and guidance that you present for lovers of works and restorations in wood. I wish you all the best in the world and good health. I would also like to know when a specialized magazine will be published because I deal with restorations of old furniture but more bronze brass silver gold objects. With much respect Viorel Ureche

    • Hello!
      Thank you for your appreciation and best wishes! Good health to you too!
      It's hard to review expert advice on restorations. There are many professional secrets in your world and very few willing to share them.
      All the best!


Subscribe to newsletter