Will refinishing devalue my antique furniture?

Recently I was asked a question by a potential client.


“How will the value of my antique furniture be affected if it’s refinished?”


It’s not the first time the question has been asked, but I stumbled across an article written by Wayne Jordan, a prominent expert on antiques who addresses what he calls “The Antique Refinishing Myth” *  which states that refinishing or restoring antiques will destroy the value of an antique. He does this by boiling it down to 3 questions to ask in response.


What is an antique?


While clarity on the matter in Canada is somewhat murky and difficult to research, there is a wealth of information in the United States defined by their laws and can be used as an acceptable standard. So, here’s a little legal lesson, or you can skip down a couple of paragraphs if you don’t suffer from insomnia.


In the U.S.A., the definition of an antique is defined as object which is at least 100 years old by the Tariff Act of 1930 (and adopted as the standard in 1966). This would exempt the object from import duties when crossing into the United States. In 1993, The North American Free Trade Agreement amended the Tariff Act and was concerning restoration of antiques. It states:


“Provided they retain their original character, the heading includes articles that have been repaired or restored. For example, the heading includes antique furniture incorporating parts of modern manufacture. However, if the essential character is changed, or more than 50% of the item has been repaired or restored, the item is no longer considered an antique and is subject to duty” *


Note however, that some antique appraisers may state that it must be 80% original instead of 50%.


Is it Valuable?

The next step in determining an answer to our original question is determining if it is valuable or not. So, what determines its value?


In Wayne Jordan’s article linked to above, he states it perfectly:


“Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s valuable. In addition to being old, antiques can have both intrinsic (of the item) and extrinsic (outside the item) value. Intrinsic value elements include condition, authenticity, quality, style and material. Extrinsic value is a matter of rarity (supply) and demand for the item.” *


 Who is doing the refinishing?


In 2002, Peter Cook, the Executive Producer of Antiques Roadshow wrote a letter to Professional Refinishing Magazine stating “Well-conceived and well-executed refinishing and restoration usually enhances the value of just about any piece of old furniture. Exceptions are those rare (often museum-quality) pieces that have somehow survived in great ‘original’ condition”**


The key phrase here is well-executed. Professional refinishers have access to materials that are  not available on the retail market. Likewise, a professional has methods at his or her disposal through the constant act of practicing their craft. Something  that the average DIY enthusiast doesn’t have the time to develop.


Should you refinish your antique furniture?


If you have answered the first 2 questions (Is it an antique and is it valuable) with a potential or definite yes, then you should consider having an appraiser look at it and give you their opinion on the impact in value that refinishing or restoration will have. Beyond that, you can be reasonably sure that having such work done by a professional will most likely increase the value and bring it back to a usable and desirable state.


*Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/3437423
**Article Source: http://prorestorers.org/antiques_roadshow.pdf