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Tips on How To Restore Damaged Antique Items

Rusted metal, decaying bookbinding, or weathered wood? All is not lost. Take these tips on how to restore damaged antique items and save what you hold dear.

You may have furniture, books, or works of art that have been in your family for years and years—and you intend to keep it that way. Or perhaps you simply love to go antiquing, rummaging through shops and yard sales searching for the overlooked and the opportunity to add classic charm to your home. Either way, antique ownership means walking the tightrope of preservation and restoration. How much can you undo the damage these items have incurred over the years? How much should you restore such items at all? They’re questions whose answers can vary not only from person to person, but from case to case. In most instances, you’ll want to save items you have and make them look their best. To make your antiques last longer and look better, use these tips on how to restore damaged antique items, whether they’re made of wood, paper, or metal.

Refinish Furniture Only When Necessary

Discovering and upcycling an old nightstand or bookshelf by applying bold colors or decoupaging can be a creative endeavor and a great way to infuse a personal value into an item that had meant nothing to you before. But in the case of family heirlooms and fine antique furniture, it’s best not to reimagine the original work—or even put a new stain on it. If you believe this is a high-value antique, consider conserving the piece, rather than restoring or refinishing it. In conservation, an expert will protect against further wear and tear without trying to turn back the clock. But if you simply want an old piece of furniture to look its best and stay in the family for years to come, restoring or refinishing is the best approach.

Reinforce Failing Book Spines

Books are full of sentimental value. Whether you’ve found an early edition of a classic or you’ve had a rare book in the family for generations, you discover it’s become too delicate for its own good—pages are drying and yellowing, and the spine can barely hold the pages anymore. While you can’t stop the passage of time and the yellowing of paper, you can take some steps to strengthen the structural integrity of your superannuated book. Adhesives, binding tape, and a keen eye for damage are integral to repairing and fortifying aged books so they can continue to last.

Rid Rust with Household Supplies

Unsightly rust can ruin antique metal goods, but much of this damage is reversible without the use of heavy chemicals. Instead, simple household cleaning supplies can provide simple, environmentally friendly alternatives that will get your metal looking, if not good as new, as good as possible given the circumstances. White vinegar and a scrub pad will remove most accumulated rust, and a paste of lime juice and table salt will abrade any residual rust, leaving you with a clean surface to clear-coat and protect. For especially dire rust, a citric acid bath using the same citric acid you would use for pickling and canning can dramatically restore even the most oxidized iron. Any tips on how to restore damaged antique items that keep caustic solvents out of the home should certainly be welcome.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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