Will it ruin the value?
Meaning, will refinishing a piece ruin the value.
I'm going to be completely honest and blunt about this question. Keep in mind that I'm a professional refinisher, so my views are suspect too, but I do know all sides of this issue and where it comes from.
It comes from the "Antiques Road Show" mainly, and is perpetuated by conservators, restorers, and antique dealers.
The first thing that you have to remember is that this is primarily an entertainment show that ends up in very large cities. Out of all the thousands of pieces that show up, very few of them actually get on the show, and those are the rarest or most interesting pieces. Some are high priced and others are not.
I like to watch it myself, but, it can be very misleading to the general public.
From a refinishers point of view, I'll say this. The primary purpose of any finish is to protect and beautify the wood beneath it, and that is it's only purpose. That is what the original maker of the furniture intended.
Once the integrity of the finish has deteriorated through chemical deteriorzation, dings and scratches from abuse,or it has gone dark through the aging process, that original purpose is no longer being met.
I believe the original maker of the piece would want it to look as he intended it to look, and protected the way he intended it to be protected, and the finish should be replaced.
This does not decrease it's value, but, increases it's value. That's the first point.
The second point I'd like to make is that these are not museum pieces. People live with their furniture and use them daily. Most of the pieces I get in, require a color change to suit what the owner of the piece wants. To me, this also increases the value of the piece to the owner, who has every right to have the piece she sees everyday, just the way she wants it.
The third point I'd make is that modern finishes are much better suited to modern day polishes, chemical cleaners, and life styles than old finishes were, and that even a similar, but newly applied finish, will hold up longer than leaving the original finish on would.
Do you know what you need to be an antique dealer? A sales tax number and a business card. I've been an antique dealer, both of my brothers are antique dealers, and I've done work for many other antique dealers.
Their knowledge ranges from very little to quite a lot, but, one thing is invariably true about each one, they try to buy low and sell high. Any time they have a piece stripped or refinished, the money comes directly out of their profits.
Is it any wonder that they hollar, "Don't touch that finish, you'll ruin the value." They prefer to sell it as is, without investing any of their profit into it. They'd be more honest to hollar, "Don't touch that finish and don't expect me to, either, it'll ruin my profit."
To be fair, there are instances when you really don't want to remove a finish, mainly on handmade primitive pieces 100+ years old. These kind of pieces have a certain look to them, you're seeing history, and that's where their value lies.
Other pieces, just aren't that bad, all they need is a quick touchup/refurbishing, which is called Restoration and may include part replacement or repair.
There are true restorers out there who take themselves quite seriously and who have the skills to back it up, but, just like with refinishers and antique dealers, there are no certificates of authenticity to prove they know what they're doing, and many of them can hang that sign on their shop and do. Anyone can make that claim, and most of us can claim to be restorers by regluing a chair or a drawer, we've restored the item.
Real conservators are a different breed of cat. Anyone who claims to be a conservator, (and there aren't that many of them and they know each other), has the credentials to back it up.
They have years and years of education. They are part scientist, part finisher, part historian, part chemist, and part detective.
They are concerned with saving the finish as part of saving the history of the piece, and have a legitimate claim to not touching the finish. However, even then, I think that saving the finish has to be limited to "historically significant" pieces, and not to every piece of furniture in the world, which is too impractical. To finish up, most of us don't have pieces that are 'historically significant', it's just everyday normal furniture that we use and have to look at everyday, and I think most of it will increase in value by being refinished, and will certainly look more pleasing.
If you have any doubts at all, contact a certified appraiser and have him appraise it for you. Make sure he's licensed.
Steve Austin is a professional furniture refinisher-restorer operating Austin Furniture Stripping & Refinishing in Olean, NY.