If It’s Broke, Fix It—Properly

Today’s post is a great article that was in some US versions of the Wall Street Journal on February 25th, 2012
When a piece of furniture goes to pieces, you don’t have to. Take it to one of the repair shops trusted by top decorators

It might not be a 15th-century Renaissance terra-cotta relief, like the della Robbia that did a back-flip off a wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago. But it might be something you love or use every day and would be sorry to see go. The club chair that’s lost a leg. The wedding vase that slipped your grip and cracked a lip.

When bad things happen, interior designers don’t blink. Because they know the good people to go to.

“Anything can be repaired,” said New York decorator Thomas Britt, “if you have the right people.” Mr. Britt goes to a Russian sculptor in Fort Lee, N.J., for marble, bronze, jade and ivory work; a Polish lady on the Upper East Side for porcelain and pottery; and an office in Harlem for drapes, tapestries and rugs. “But, you have to find artists,” Mr. Britt said.

“We had a beautiful vintage mirrored table,” recalled Katie Lydon, also a New York decorator. “We moved it from one apartment to another, and the top totally smashed.” The client was shattered; Ms. Lydon coolly rang her resource. “It was a hard match and we did it,” Ms. Lydon said. “New mirror patinaed to that exact lovely distressed look. You can’t tell.”

Marie Turner Carson, of M. Elle Design in Santa Monica, Calif., had a client whose new puppy had a very close encounter with a very old rug. Ms. Carson shipped the rug out to Denver’s Robert Mann, a specialist in Oriental and Southwestern rug and textile cleaning and restoration who is known to decorators nationally. The puppy has a brighter future as a dog.

Even glass can be repaired. “It depends on what’s wrong with it,” said Sara Blumberg of Glass Past, a rare-glass dealer. Internal cracks, no. Chip on the rim, yes. Internal blisters, or “oysters,” no. Reattachments, like stem to bowl, yes.

“The task at hand is usually an issue of craft and not period. Skills are not specific to centuries. ”

Whether 18th century or midcentury modern, the task at hand is usually an issue of craft and not period. Skills are not specific to centuries. “If you’ve lost a piece of veneer on an Eames piece, take it to someone who knows the task of veneer,” said Don Menveg, an art conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who worked on the installation of the “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” exhibit.

Evan Lobel, of New York’s Lobel Modern, recalled having a set of Hans Wegner 1950s dining chairs recaned. “The truth is, the caning makes the chair,” he said. “It would kill the chair to have it done improperly.” John Bausert and his son Sean, of Veteran’s Chair Caning and Repair in Manhattan, were able to replicate the intricate design.

In fact, a reputable tradesperson will walk you through the problem before taking the work. “People ring me and ask, ‘Is this repairable?'” said Seamus Fairtlough, of Fairtlough Restoration in Long Island City, N.Y., who works with decorators like Mariette Himes Gomez, largely on furniture. “There are few pieces I can’t restore, made out of wood.” But Mr. Fairtlough is careful to help a client assess the level of work required, from repair to conservation. He has reassembled a sideboard that flew out of the back of a truck and hit the highway at high speed.

“They brought it to me in a box,” he said funereally. But glues, dowels and joints won’t help a piece that’s rotten with wormwood. “Then we have problems. We often have to replace sections.”

And there is motive. “Make sure you’re doing it for the right reason,” said Robert Brown, a designer in Atlanta, of repair. “Is there value at the end? Has it lost its value in the repair? Is it still pleasing?” Suzanne Tucker, of Tucker & Marks in San Francisco, said: “The reality here is what it will cost. If you’re throwing good money after bad, but it’s a sentimental piece—that’s a personal decision.”

Ms. Gomez explained, “Some things are very difficult to find. If you find it, and it has aesthetic value, then doing the repair is appropriate. If you’ve fallen in love with something that needs repair, it’s like fixing your wrist. Just fix it.”

Designers and craftsmen also caution about the extent and integrity of a repair—”over-repair” can be, in its way, as bad as breakage.

“If the piece is 100 years old, you don’t want it to look new,” said Oliver Furth, a decorator in Los Angeles. Matthew White, of White Webb in New York, observed, “Increasingly, everyone wants everything to be perfect. I find it kind of exhausting.” Mr. White recalled a gilded, carved frame “with some losses.” “I could have had it completely restored,” he said. “But instead I did a few major things, so it will stand up as something that looks its age.”

David Easton, a New York decorator, knows people who can fix anything short of a horse race. But he treats some tough breaks—a tall fractured pier mirror—as opportunities instead. “I don’t think a fracture like that is repairable,” he said. “But you can cut it down and put it in a different frame. You can get half a mirror out of that.”

Questions? Comments? Leave them below…

Until Next Time – Dan @ Wood Menders

A version of this article appeared Feb. 25, 2012, on page D4B in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: If It’s Broke, Fix It—Properly.