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7 easy tricks for giving new life to old furniture

Revive your wicker

Cane furniture can be a challenge to clean. But that’s no reason to pay a professional to do it. Stephen Berne, an antique chair restorer, offers these insider tips:

Use a vacuum cleaner - Use the brush attachment to lift dust, dirt and lint from within the woven reeds.

Wipe clean - A cloth moistened with paint thinner (first try a little thinner on an inconspicuous spot to make sure it does not harm the finish) will do the trick. For stubborn stains, rub lightly with a paintbrush moistened with thinner.

Bring up the sheen - Apply some furniture wax with a clean soft cloth.

Tighten that sagging seat

Like all seasoned craftsmen, furniture repairers have their tricks. Here’s one that will save money the next time your wicker chair seats stretch and droop Firstly, make sure the seat is made from rattan or bark – not paper rushing. Then turn the chair upside down and wet the underside of the seat by wiping it with a clean sponge soaked in warm water. Once this is really wet – the top of the seat should remain dry – gently push down on the damp underside and then turn the chair upright. Once it has dried out, the seat will be much tighter.

Mask furniture scratches

Avoid restorer’s fees by hiding scratches. An easy and cheap way to do this is to match a wax crayon to the colour of the wood and use it to work over the scratch. Then rub lightly to blend it in.

Keep antiques as they were

Do as little as possible to change the original construction and finish of old furniture. By stripping off a finish and putting on a new one, you could drastically reduce the value of an antique. If a chair is a little loose and creaky or a table’s lacquer top is cracking, leave it as it is.

Protect without fuss

Contrary to what the makers of those lemon-fresh, spray-on furniture polishes claim, you don’t need fancy chemicals to clean and protect wooden chests, desks, tables and chairs. In fact, those products can do more harm than good.

At the National Trust, this minimalist approach is taken to the extreme: to reduce wear and tear, loose surface dust is cleaned off only when it is deemed really necessary. In some instances, that might be just once a year. For the gentlest of treatment, smooth flat surfaces are cleaned with soft cotton dusters folded into a pad. And when it comes to particularly prized objects, intervention can be even less frequent. Books may get cleaned once every 3 to 5 years, ceramics every 5 to 10 years and paintings once every 25 years. Fading from exposure to sunlight, and darkening caused by absorbing chemicals and moisture, are the major enemies of wooden furniture.

To avoid such problems occurring, experts suggest the following:

Protect wood - Avoid moisture by using coasters for drinks and wiping up spills immediately. And try to avoid cleaning with water, if at all possible.

Dust regularly - Use a soft dry cloth.

Wax once a year - Use a product such as Johnson’s paste wax – but only if the finish of the wood is intact. A paste wax will protect without penetrating the wood and will stop dust from binding with the surface. Pick a wax that matches the colour of the wood. If the wood is cracked or the finish has rubbed away, skip the paste altogether.

Steam out dents

A dent on a wooden surface can often be removed by swelling the compressed wood fibres back to their normal size, using moisture and heat. To do this, prick the varnished finish of the dented area several times with a fine pin, so that any moisture applied will be able to penetrate into the wood below. Then cover the dent with a pad of wet cloth, put a metal bottle cap on top of the pad to spread the heat, and apply a hot iron to the bottle cap for a few minutes. Be careful not to scorch the finish. After wards, when the wood is completely dry, fill the pinholes with a thin coat of fresh varnish.

Paint over plastics

Once plastic furniture has been scratched, quite often there is little that you can do to remedy the situation. But one simple solution is to paint the damaged plastic furniture. The latest paints cover plastic easily and smoothly, with no need for a primer coat. And if you’re in a hurry to get the job done, use spray-on paint.

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