Vintage Furniture: When to Leave the Finish As-Is

So, you've scored an amazing deal on a vintage lacquered cabinet or a pair of painted chairs, but the finish is faded and cracked. Do you have your furniture refinished or do you leave it alone and embrace its time-worn patina?

If you want to preserve the value of your antique, it's almost always best to leave the finish alone. If the finish is original to the piece, it's an intrinsic part of the furniture's worth. If the finish is not original, it probably won't affect the value.

Don't lacquer over the paint to keep it from peeling, don't touch it up with anything, and don't use oil on the surface. (Clear paste wax is OK for wood.) If you really want to fix the finish, you can take it to a professional restorer, but even having the finish restored carries the chance of a decrease in value.

If your furniture is a thrift store find and you don't care about its value, then the choice is yours. Leave it as-is, strip it, or repaint it, depending on the look you're going for. For stained wood pieces, you can try Restor-A-Finish or Feed-N-Wax. To paint a piece, follow these steps.

One thing we often find is that worn finishes can add some contrast and depth to a home, so we suggest living with vintage furniture as-is for a couple of weeks before altering it. You might warm up to the imperfections in the finish.

For more advice, see these links:
Preserving the Finish (and Value) of Antique Furniture
Great Products: Restor-A-Finish and Feed-N-Wax
How To: Restore a Fiberglass Shell Chair

Photo: Swiss Industrial Garden Meubles from Factory 20

9 Comments