Spring is in the air! For Jews, that means Pesach cleaning, and a compulsory review of the home and its contents; what needs to be fixed, junked or purchased. This is the best time to get the house and its contents shipshape, and it might be the only opportunity. As one client summed it up: “If you don’t fix my sofa before Pesach, then it will have to wait another year.”
But how to decide what furniture is worth fixing or buying? Sometimes, householders might be stumped by this puzzle, feeling as if they simply don’t have enough information at their fingertips to act. The basic criteria for whether to save or buy a piece of furniture can be simplified, but some equally important questions are how we perceive furniture and what motivates us to like it.
Historically, furniture is like the town clock. Entire towns would, in the past, pool their money for a clock in a tower; but with the machine age and the evolution of mass production, clocks became more and more common, and today clocks exist everywhere. We can say the same for chairs. Once, chairs were made by craftsmen, and built to last a lifetime; today, they’re molded in cheap plastics by the millions.
While today we have much more wealth than ever before, and can afford much better furniture than ever, still many believe that throwaway consumables and disposables are preferable. Thanks to slick marketing, popular consensus justifies buying costly electronics that last only a few years – for instance, the latest smartphone that people seem to think they need will set them back over 3,000 NIS. But quality furniture that will outlast them many times over seems expensive. Paying 2,000 NIS for a chair seems really expensive to people of today’s mindset, and especially those who have learned to like furniture by that unnamed Scandinavian manufacturer, because it is so cheap and disposable.
So don’t be fooled by the consumer hype. With a little effort, you can find excellent vintage and antique furniture well worth restoring. Even though it will cost more upfront, it will serve you in greater style and comfort for your lifetime, and maybe the next generation, too.
Materials, Construction and Functionality
Whether you have inherited something from Grandma or you want to buy a vintage item, first assess the quality of the materials it’s made from. The overriding factor in materials and construction is if the piece will be flexed or remain static. For chairs and seating, the joints are stressed every time one sits, requiring mortise and tenon joinery, or at least dowels.
One of the most important factors in construction is the quality of the glue. Even chairs from the best companies will fall apart eventually. Although most chairs today are made from high-quality parts, these unfortunately fall apart when the glue fails. Look for hardwood frames with stretchers between the legs, glue blocks that reinforce the seat, and the absence of screws. Try to avoid items where the frame is constructed from extra thick material, making the chair extra heavy. It may look impressive, but it indicates usage of weak, low-quality wood.
In static pieces such as closets, libraries, etc., medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with a wood veneer can be used effectively, if the hardware is sufficient and if it will not come into contact with moisture, including high humidity. Closets and tables can be constructed with more simple joinery, which relies on hardware.
A Word on Finishes
Furniture finishes come in two varieties; repairable and irreparable. If the finish has hairline cracks running all over it, that means it needs refinishing. Any efforts to build on top of a weak foundation will end up cracking. However, old finishes that are badly scratched, but not full of cracks, can often be repaired.
If you want to make a major investment in your furnishings, and are not certain about the technical aspects of the furniture, Restorno offers a technical appraisal service. Soon, Restorno will be offering courses for those who want to restore their own furniture, or who want to purchase from our inventory of unrestored furniture. We would like to receive emails from anyone interested in such courses. Stay tuned for the opening of our furniture gallery.