A True Story - A Case For Conservative Historic & Antique Restoration

Philadelphia Antique Restoration & Repair
Sorry, there is nothing I can do. [Hans Noll]

Around 30 years ago at my first studio in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, there was a steady flow of young men who would call or come by to ask if they could find work with us. The fourth guy in so many months seemed conversational so I asked him a little about his experience. He was in his second year of employ at a well-known Main Line of Philadelphia antique res­toration shop and was concerned that maybe he was being asked to perform work which was ill-advised. It was his job on Thursdays and Fridays to sand smooth the dozen or so pieces per week which had been brushed with lye on Monday and hosed off and left to dry Tuesday and Wednesday. This went on every week for decades; four decades to be exact. I was, (and am to this day,) shocked that people would actually pay to have their furniture treated this way.

The next time I saw my dear friend and mentor, Hans Noll, I mentioned this conversation with the young man. Hans said he had seen the results of this treatment first hand.

A client of his, rather than drive into Philadelphia with a relatively un­important chest of drawers, entrusted it to this popular workshop for refinishing. When he picked it up and put it into the back of his Mercedes wagon, he paid for it, didn’t say a word and drove it directly to Hans’ door at 11th and Pine Streets.
He said “Hans, I made a terrible mistake going to this other shop. Would you please fix it?!”


Well meaning but poorly trained restoration specialists sometimes sand the surface of your antique furniture
The restoration of antique furniture is both an art and a science.

Of course, once a piece is “skinned” the charm, beauty and history is lost forever. Sadly, Hans had to say “Sorry, there is nothing I can do.”  He didn’t even remove it from the wagon. I asked Hans how this sort of thing could go on. He said the guy had been in business so long, he had trained his customers to believe the “brand new” look was correct.

Some processes in antique restoration are reversible. Some are not. We can debate the relative merits of shellac and varnish and lacquer, but there can be no debate about the value of preserving the historic surface of an antique. It is sacred. Yes! I said sacred! Future generations will enjoy the pieces that manage to survive with their lovely surfaces intact.

If you have questions regarding your own fine furniture, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Copyright 2012 John Hobe Antique Restoration
We serve clients across the North East in the greater Philadelphia, New York (NY) and Baltimore areas. Our antique furniture restoration and repair workshop is in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia with easy access to Montgomery County and the PA turnpike via Rt 309.  Please call us if you wish to arrange transportation for your furniture.