FAQ: Restoring Historic Pieces

Whether you represent a historic society or are only looking after a personal collection, we know the thought of protecting your antiques can seem daunting, foreign, or expensive. However, you might be surprised by what we  can accomplish, both in terms of skill and budget. We'll address some common questions here.

What’s the quote process like? Can you assess a piece from photos?

The short answer is: Usually. An estimate is never set in stone until we’ve seen a piece in person, but most issues can be identified with a series of clear photos. Once we’ve had a chance to examine a piece by hand, we prepare a condition report which explains the state of the frame. We prioritize the problems at hand and itemize their costs so you can decide on a solution that fits your budget.

How extensive is the restoration process?

Every piece we restore gets a dedicated examination to determine whether it needs minor touch-up or complete regilding, and as committed conservationists, we never push to regild a frame when its original antique finish is in good shape. Typically, we recommend a plan for bringing a piece to a fully-repaired archival state, but we always give you flexibility; if you can only afford to fix structural problems and prevent critical damage, we’re happy to oblige.

Our budget is always tight. Why is restoration worth pursuing?

Again, this is a challenge we understand. Funding comes and goes, but we’re always happy to start examining collections so that you can be prepared and informed when you have the opportunity to move forward. This also allows us to identify the immediate dangers of any specific pieces in your collection, potentially preventing ongoing damage which would only become more expensive (or impossible) to repair later.

It depends on the extent of the damage, but whatever the case, we keep the process simple for you. We take care of de-installation, re-installation, and moderate cleaning of artwork, but we also collaborate with accredited professional art conservators to handle anything beyond our capabilities (including delivery to and from those specialists). In these cases, they’ll communicate their assessments directly to you.

You restore frames, but what about the art?

Ideally, art and frames are restored simultaneously, and we frequently facilitate that process with our associated art conservators. However, we understand that’s not always possible. In these cases, it’s best to consider the frame’s original purpose: to protect the art. A frame with structural problems can cause further damage to the art it’s displaying, whereas it’s almost impossible for the art to damage the frame.

Why should I prioritize picture frame restoration over art restoration?

Our goal is always to achieve complete conservation quality—meaning the finished piece will last for the next century and beyond with proper handling—and by using authentic gold leaf and our established methods, that goal is readily achievable. Gilding is a finely-specialized practice passed from craftsman to craftsman throughout the ages, but with modern information, we’ve reached a degree of archival quality that is truly without rival.

How long does your work last?

Sometimes, but sometimes not. Damaged ornamentation is often obvious, usually resulting in white gesso or bare wood showing underneath the losses. However, certain subtler problems can develop over time; low-quality finishes can oxidize and leave the surface dull, while improper cleaning can wash out even the highest-quality finishes, and loose gesso can cause ornamentation to become more and more fragile over time. Another easily-overlooked problem is soot from any house which once had a coal-burning furnace, appearing as dust or wear but doing far deeper damage to any finish which has been exposed to it. Last but not least, it can be incredibly difficult to determine whether a piece has structural problems resulting from prior falls, moisture, or a wood-burrowing insect colony.

Is it obvious to the untrained eye whether a piece needs to be restored?

If the finish seems dull, it’s likely composition leaf. As a cheaper alternative to genuine gold leaf, oxidation over time is its nature. However, we also constantly come across improper repair work, sometimes finding layers upon layers: broken ornamentation put back on with household silicone, obvious mangled surface repair, and original gilding which has been painted over—sometimes with so many coats of paint that all the fine detail in the ornamentation disappears. However, all of these problems are reversible with our proper restoration techniques.

I’m told a piece has been restored in the past, but it looks “off.” Why?

There’s sometimes a misconception that gilding will bring a piece back to a gaudy bright gold state, but this is almost never the case. An undamaged piece with its original finish will still develop an antique appearance over time, and it’s this appearance we seek to match. After gilding is completed and sealed, we begin the safe process of “antiquing” the finish so the final piece looks its proper age, imitating the look of a never-damaged, well-maintained piece.

What will a gilded piece look like when it’s finished?