The power of the sun is something that is regularly overlooked when arranging furniture within our homes. It’s effect can be both positive and destructive, but so gradual that it often goes unnoticed until the damage is done. Ambient UV light from sunlight changes the colour of wood, with Oak darkening, bringing out warmer tones. Direct sunlight however can have adverse effects on certain finishes and especially stains, sapping the colour and washing out the richness that it once had. This is the story of a bureau…
This 19th Century Victorian roll top bureau, had sat in the sun too long. Positioned in front of a large window, the sunlight had almost totally destroyed the colour. If it wasn’t for the remaining finish inside and on the back in the shadow of the sun, one would be hard put to guess that there was once a finish at all.
The very detailed marquetry on all sides had become almost indistinguishable in colour from the main body of wood, and this was to prove the major challenge.
A surprise inside!
Removing the top to disassemble the roll top lid, we were delighted to find, scrawled in pencil by the maker – the address for which this piece was originally made.
Number 36 Morningside Crescent, Hampstead Heath, London.
Wherever possible, we prefer to leave any original finish in place to conserve a piece’s history. In this case however, more drastic measures were necessary and the remaining finish had to be removed.
Now with the wood bare, new stain and finish could be applied to return the exterior surface to its original colour and shine. The difficulty was to colour the main Mahogany timber without also darkening the lighter wood of the marquetry. By using a chemical stain that reacts with the natural tannin in the Mahogany but not occurring in the marquetry timber, our team were able to restore the rich colour of the main cabinet, giving the marquetry clear definition.
Stain applied, then began the long process of building up the finish. Using shellac polish, thin layer upon thin layer was built up. With each layer, there was time to let the finish sink into the grain which was then rubbed back with fine abrasive paper to smooth the surface, before another layer of shellac. A matter of thorough attention, and patience.
And the patience paid off. With the antiqued brass, polished to match the shine that would have been originally intended in the 19th century, the difference is undoubtably astounding!
The sun bleached bureau as it arrived with us.
How it left after restoration.
The inside of the bureau after completed restoration, still with it’s original leather writing surface. The outside stain perfectly matching that of the inside that had been hidden from the sun.