‘To Conserve or To Refinish?’ Differences in Restoration Processes You Need to Know

Restoring your antique furniture and keepsakes is not only a great way to breathe life back into treasures but also is more environmentally-friendly than purchasing new furniture and collectibles. Restoring can also be an opportunity to customize your piece to suit your needs. And don’t forget, restoration work is an art form! We refinish and conserve your treasured objects, furniture, and memorabilia because we truly enjoy it!

The two main restoration processes are conserving and refinishing. In both cases, we could be replicating missing pieces. In both cases, we could be touching in details that have worn from time and use. There are, however, a number of important differences.

Conserving involves leaving the original finish and details intact while improving the overall look of the piece. The current condition and existing finish of the piece are gently treated with preventative care to protect the surface from further damage. Keeping the existing finish helps retain the value and authenticity of the piece. This sustains the character of the piece, which is especially important with ‘one-of-a-kind’ items.

Refinishing involves stripping the existing finish, sanding, then hand applying a new finish. This is done for pieces with damage that goes below the surface of the finish, like a deep scratch or a burn. While in such cases it is necessary to remove the finish, this is done in a way to minimize a difference in appearance from the old to the new.  

Refinishing offers a flexibility that conserving does not. When you refinish a piece, you can change the style and color to your liking. Perhaps you’ve inherited a scratched dining room table that doesn’t quite fit the color scheme of your dining room, perhaps you’ve bought an antique chest that you’d prefer in a lighter shade: these are refinishing jobs.This technique is ideal for showcasing the distinctive character of a piece and promotes a fresh new look. The refinishing process can be more time consuming but offers superior overall transformation.

When you’re deciding between conserving or refinishing your piece, think about the amount of change you want for the piece. If you are seeking a drastic transformation in the overall look, that would be a refinishing job. If you prefer keeping the piece as close to the original as possible, that would be a conserving job.

Conserving a piece requires slightly fewer materials than refinishing one. Also, conserving requires less time than refinishing so the turnaround is quicker. However, sometimes, given the condition of a piece, it simply cannot be conserved and has to be refinished.

Whichever you decide, we look forward to working on your piece. We will consult with you throughout the process to ensure your piece is restored to your satisfaction.

Written by Meaghan McNally, Conservator, Furniture Department

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Trefler’s studio is temporarily closed; We are available by phone and email to provide ballpark estimates of your pieces, as well as virtual services for claims of all varieties.