An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 24

Clinton Howell Antiques - January 22, 2018 - Issue 24

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

The opening of a restoration business requires patience. The essential necessity is to remember that few people understand what restoration means, at least from the point of view I was coming from in 1977. The London College of Furniture essentially taught us to not do too much to a piece in order to save that which was old and original. This concept was not universal at that point. Indeed, many trained restorers (there were none in my area) at that time were calling themselves conservators to differentiate their knowledge and process from the average American restorer. I remember attending an American Institute of Conservators Symposium in Ottawa where the assembled groups were determining workshop procedure that should be standard practice for all members.

Even though I understood the value of the rules of the AIC (now the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) I did not join. I felt there had to be a middle way--what the British would call "proper" restoration that maintained the philosophy I had learned at the London College of Furniture--where you did as little as was necessary. The rub, of course, is financial and, at times, aesthetics. Conservation is far more expensive than restoration because it takes more time. Aesthetics, because, at times, the client would prefer that you jettison something that could be patched to a whole new piece being inserted. These kinds of dilemmas were rife, most often in finishing where the flood of contradictory information on the subject still plagues the trade. (I will elaborate on finishing at some point in the future.)

Introducing this philosophy to Westchester, NY and Fairfield, CT was interesting. Oddly, I met a group of older Greenwich residents who would go to Winterthur for classes on how to take care of their antiques. They were a godsend as they bruited my name around town and I soon had a business.