Even if your home is filled with history – it doesn’t have to be a dusty museum. If you’ve been lucky enough to have inherited a gorgeous item of antique wooden furniture, or you’re a collector yourself, with the right care and maintenance, these pieces of history will retain their value and their intrinsic beauty.
The broad definition of an antique is something that is older than a hundred years – but of course, not every antique is necessarily valuable nor of historic value. However, most have an emotional or sentimental value and perhaps for that reason alone, it’s worth caring for them properly.
It’s important to know that antique furniture has to be treated differently from modern home furnishings. Sprays, polishes, oils and finishes can have an effect on the value of the furniture as they can contain harmful chemicals, so it’s really important to understand what can and can’t be done when it comes to looking after antiques.
Three important aspects need to be considered – how to clean the furniture, how to protect it and where it is situated in the home (or the office).
Cleaning your antique furniture
Regular dusting is essential, but the emphasis is on ‘gentle’ and ‘harmless’. Too much dust can harm the surface of the piece, but vigorous or careless dusting can also be harmful. Always use a lint-free soft cloth and don’t use any sprays or polishes containing chemicals. Using furniture oil will give the patina of the wood an instant ‘lift’, but this is only short-term and the oil can actually stain the finish and leave a residue which attracts abrasive dust. Oils and polishes that contain silicon as the base should also not be used as these can penetrate into the wood as well as leave a finish that is hard to remove.
The very best way of cleaning your antique furniture is to use the right polishes – and that is a thin coat of natural wax polish followed by a buffing with a soft, slightly damp cloth and regular dusting to keep the surface free from any abrasive grit or grime.
Ensuring your antiques are dust-free and polished with wax polish is the first step, but it’s also vital to protect your furniture from life’s little knocks. A vase of fresh flowers on a gleaming chest of drawers is a classically beautiful combination but always take care with spills. Any spilt liquid should be wiped up immediately (ensure the surface is 100% dry) and place the vase on a protective mat (eg a square of felt etc) to prevent it from scratching. Felt ‘dots’ or ‘feet’ are widely available from shops and should be placed under all ornaments, photograph frames etc to prevent them from damaging or scratching the surface.
To prevent uneven fading of the surface, all ornaments, lamps etc should be moved around. If you’re laying cutlery on the tabletop, take care as metal can scratch the surface.
The hard plastic nozzle of the vacuum cleaner can also scratch and dent the furniture, so take care when cleaning around your antique pieces.
Where furniture is located
Antiques shoulnd’t be placed near windows as they can easily be damaged by direct sunlight. Not even a good furniture polish will be able to restore the original beauty and colour of an antique if it has been damaged and faded by sunlight. Wooden furniture will react adversely if the environment is too dry or if there is too much humidity – so keeping temperature changes to the minimum is advisable. In a very humid environment, wood can warp, the veneer can swell and mildew and mould can form, whilst it can crack and the joints loosen if the atmosphere is too dry.
Antique wooden furniture shouldn’t be placed in front of heaters, airconditioners, stoves or fireplaces.
Caring for antiques isn’t hard. To get the best furniture finish for your precious pieces and to keep their heritage and their beauty shining through, a little knowledge and a little effort will go a long way!.