Basic recommendations for the care of antique furniture

Antique furniture should be positioned at least two feet away from any heat source, never directly in front of a radiator or heater. If the antique furniture has to be placed near a heat source then some protection should be put in place, such as an insulated or reflective barrier.

Dust frequently with a soft cloth, and rub up your furniture often in order to encourage a hard skin to form and build up a good surface colour known as patina. Once or twice a year polish thoroughly with a good beeswax based polish, polish sparingly, and preferably leave overnight, before rubbing well.

Do not use spray polishes, as although they give a good initial effect, they contain silicon which builds up a sticky surface with a large proportion of spirit which evaporates quickly, taking with is some of the natural oils in the timber.

Antique furniture needs to be protected from fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity that can cause a great deal of damage and is costly of repair. Many fine pieces of furniture that have survived for centuries in unheated conditions can suffer major harm in just one winter of central heating. The reason for this is that antique furniture is constructed from air-dried timber and has a far higher water content than modern furniture, which is usually made of kiln-dried wood containing less moisture. When subjected to low levels of relative humidity it gradually gives up moisture to the dry surrounding atmosphere and starts to shrink and split along the grain. This is aggravated when underlying pieces of wood used in the construction are at right angles to each other and then veneered on top. The carcase wood moves and the veneer consequently tears apart and pieces may become detached. If this should happen it is vital that these pieces are kept carefully, ready for replacement.

Prevention is always better than cure and it is possible to safeguard antique furniture from dry air damage by investing in a good humidifier which will help maintain a constant level of relative humidity in the air during the winter heating season a normal comfortable, indoor temperature should aim to maintain 50-55% relative humidity, or even a bowl of water nearby, wish a simple hygrometer to monitor the humidity in the room.

Another aspect of prevention is monitoring the amount of sunlight that reaches the furniture. A degree of light over a long period can mellow the colour attractively, but too much will perish the surface polish and can lead to uneven fading. Where possible, turn pieces of furniture around occasionally to even the fading process and keep curtains drawn on sunny days when rooms are not in use.