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Cape conservator: Antiques have great value, so think before you paint

Cape Cod Home19_adj

Photography by Barrett M. Keating Conservators

A quick survey of home furnishing and interior design experts may reveal that fine furniture with a wood finish is currently out of style, but the owner of Barrett M. Keating Conservators of North Falmouth thinks it is only a matter of time before the beauty of an antique’s original wood will be treasured anew. “The important thing with antiques [that are 100 years old or older] is not the market value,” Keating says, “but the inherent value.” For starters, there are a finite amount of such pieces, he says, and to find a well-crafted piece in good condition is rare.

Keating adds that not only does an antique’s rarity add value, so too does its history. “I look at these pieces and look at the craftsman’s tool marks,” he says. “I can tell how skilled he was, how fast he worked, which parts the apprentice worked on, and how much money the client had. I can read the piece like a story.”

Keating says he understands the lighter, brighter appeal of painted furniture popular today, but urges his clients to add a reversible barrier finish layer before any drop of paint. This layer will protect the wood’s pores from paint seeping in, and has a different chemistry than the original finish so the look can be reversed back more easily when decor or style change. Because the quality of many older pieces is so high, Keating says it makes sense—both historical and financial—to work with a trained conservator who can imbue a piece with a new look without damaging its long-term value.

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