You’ve just found the perfect piece of furniture in a local antiques shop or auction and you’ve fallen in love with it! Or maybe you have inherited a large piece of furniture from a beloved relative and want to bring it home to enjoy all of the memories that come along with it.
There’s only one problem, however: It’s in pretty rough shape.
Do you refinish it or restore it?
These two terms are often used interchangeably by most people, so it’s easy to confuse them. Furniture restoration or refinishing professionals, however, point out that the differences are important.
Restoration usually involves keeping the original finish on a piece of wood intact and bringing it back to as close as possible to its original state. This can involve removing years of dirt, grime, scratches, scuffs and other marks if possible. Restoration is the choice if you want to retain much of the original features of the piece as possible, which is good for antique owners who want to retain value.
Refinishing, on the other hand, is more labor intensive and involves stripping off the old finish with chemical strippers. The piece is then sanded, re-stained and sealed as a part of the process. For instance, a piece may be too dark or too light in order to fit in with your own home’s décor. The natural inclination is to either lighten or darken it up a bit or to matching it to pieces you may already have.
However, many antique dealers and furniture experts advise against this kind of approach if at all possible. The main reason is because some of the value of a piece may be lost if it were to be sold in a shop or at auction. On the other hand, refinishing may be able to help you use a piece of older furniture without fear of additional damage.
Making the Right Choice
While there is plenty of information on how to either finish or restore a piece of furniture or other vintage item available in books and online, the best course of action is to consult with an experienced furniture restoration and furniture refinishing professional before undertaking either the process of restoration or refinishing.
A furniture restorer is likely to have equipment, supplies and a workspace that allows them to work more effectively than those who may even have a dedicated workshop for such projects. Sometimes a valued antique may need nothing more than a bit of cleaning to remove decades of dirt and grime to look like new.
At other times, however, an original finished simply cannot be saved and so in order to be able to enjoy and use it, refinishing is a must. Note that if you ever do decide to sell the piece, some buyers will only be looking at how it looks and not care if it was restored or refinished. When you truly love and live with a piece of furniture in your home, you ultimately must decide which approach is best.