Hiring out for antique furniture repair begins with doing your homework

Today we are talking antiques.  So you have an antique that is showing its age and needs some repair – how do you know who to go to and make sure they do not mess it up further.

Sooner or later, most of us who hang out with antiques get the urge to do a little repair here or a touch up there – nothing major. It seems so terribly easy, so why pay someone to have it done? But one thing usually leads to another and before we know it, we are in over our heads, if not on this project, then on the next one. Finally, it’s time to admit that we need the help of a professional restorer, knowledgeable in the field we have elected to muddy up.

That admission, as hard as it may be, is nothing compared to the difficulty of the next step: actually finding someone who can do the job the right way for the right price that fits your schedule.

The obvious place to look for help is in the Yellow Pages, but it is not the only place. Check out local trade papers, talk to dealers and most important of all, talk to friends and neighbors. Get an idea of how many people do the kind of work you need, then try to narrow down your choices to three or so. If those don’t work out, you can always start again.

antique sideboard  Having some slight condition issues, this continental wood cupboard with beveled mirrors, stain glass door and top display shelf sold for just $200 at Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers in Sherman Oaks, Calif., March 10, 2012. Measuring 78 1/2 inches by 53 3/4 inches by 19 1/2 inches, the piece has a stress fracture the length of the counter and two cracked stained glass panels: issues that good restoration specialists would be able to remedy. Photo courtesy Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers

The most important step is to get face to face with any person you may be interested in hiring. If the article you need worked on is too big to just throw in the trunk, call and make an appointment for the repair person to come to your location. You will know in a matter of minutes if you can do business with this person. Most people have a kind of radar that warns them when something isn’t quite right. Listen to it. If the initial meeting goes well, proceed with the plan. If it doesn’t, just pass and go on to the next interview.

Next, you must satisfy yourself that the person can in fact do the work. There are a number of ways to check it out. The best way, if possible is to actually go to the place of business where the work will be done and see other work in progress and see finished work if that is an option. However, do not rule out a shop just because there is no showroom of finished work. It is the nature of the business to get completed work out the door as soon as possible. Remember that repair and restoration people don’t get paid for working on things. They get paid for delivering finished goods. Note the people doing the work. Do they look like they know what they are doing? Does it look like the work proceeds in an orderly fashion, or does chaos and confusion reign in the workplace?

If a personal visit is not appropriate for some reason (and there should be very few acceptable reasons), the next best thing is to see photos of finished work, preferably before and after. This won’t always tell the entire story, but it will give you an idea of the capabilities of the facility and a photo album should be able to show you a much wider range of work than that in a showroom or shop.

Then there are the questions to ask. (This is the hard part for some people but it is absolutely necessary.) The most important thing to ask for is a list of local references. The next most important thing to do is to check the references. Naturally, no one is going to give you the name of a dissatisfied customer, but what one customer will accept may not be what you are willing to accept. If at all possible, see the work done for the references and discuss with them how the job went. Were their expectations met? What parts of the deal (if any) were they not happy with?

After securing references, talk about what you want done. Is there something to be matched? A color? A sheen? A shape? (Hint: You must provide a match for the restorer to work with.) Do you have an impending event that affects the timing for the job? Can that schedule be met? When can they start and how long will it take? And is that a solid date or just a guess or an estimate?

Perhaps the most sensitive question for both sides is the matter of money. There has to be a clear understanding, preferably in writing, of what will be done and what the cost will be. If there are contingencies, what are they and what will they cost? Who pays for such incidentals as transportation if that is a consideration? How is payment to be rendered and when. Many restorers ask for a deposit up front. While I disapprove of this practice, in some cases it is acceptable if a quantity of expensive material must be purchased to do the work. But advance payment for professional services should never be asked or given.

Another touchy issue that must be addressed is the question of liability. Check with your homeowner’s insurance or business insurance to determine if your property is covered for loss, fire, theft etc., while in the possession of another. If there is any question, ask the restorer if he or she has insurance that covers your property while in his/her possession. This type of coverage is not normally provided in business liability insurance but must be covered under a separate policy called “bailee’s” insurance. Ask your insurance agent for more details about that.

The final consideration goes back to the initial contact you had with the prospective restorer. Do you feel confident about doing business with this person?

While it is difficult to entrust your antique furniture to someone else, doing the proper research beforehand will make it easier in the end.

Comments?  Leave them below

Until Next Time – Dan @ Wood Menders


Fred Taylor’s “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916 or info@furnituredetective.com or visit www.furnituredetective.com.