Furniture restorers (a.k.a. furniture conservators) focus their efforts on conserving pieces of furniture, making vital repairs and generally returning them to their former glory. These guys breathe life back into ancient armchairs, save tables from the brink of collapse and give antique cabinets the kiss of life.
Furniture conservation is all about retaining the original structure, materials and functionality of the piece of furniture, while restoration involves repairing and replacing existing components with materials or parts which were not available at the time of its original manufacture.
The work involves handling both old and new furniture, but most furniture restorers specialise in a particular period, style or material.
Furniture restorers and conservators are employed by museums, galleries, heritage conservation trusts, antique dealers, mass-market furniture manufacturers and retail chains.
Freelance work is also common, with many furniture restorers working for private clients on a commission basis.
If you enter this profession, your responsibilities will involve discussing conservation or restoration requirements with your clients, assessing the optimal restoration techniques and methodologies to employ and then gathering the necessary materials and tools required to complete the process.
Whilst you’re completing the necessary repairs and precautionary procedures, you’ll be recording detailed images of the furniture before, during and after it has been restored. This will allow you to track the progress of the restoration project and keep your client updated.
Furthermore, you’ll be providing instructions and guidance to your clients on the continual care that is required to keep the restored piece of furniture in tip-top condition.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for junior furniture restorers working in permanent positions range from around £16,000 to £28,000, while experienced restorers can earn around £22,000 to £45,000.
Self-employed professionals, on the other hand, can earn between £30,000 and £50,000 a year, depending on location and the size of their client base.
Working hours for salaried furniture restorers are usually nine-to-five. However, if you’re working to meet project deadlines, you may have to work late shifts from time to time.
On the other hand, self-employed furniture restorers can set their own schedule in accordance with project deadlines and the amount of work that is required.
Travel is also frequent, with many restorers travelling to locations where the furniture is stored, such as museums and heritage sites. Indeed, if you become a furniture restorer, you may be required to travel here, chair and everywhere!
You don’t necessarily need a degree to enter this profession and many people break into this line of work via an apprenticeship after completing their GCSEs or A-levels.
However, to progress quickly in this industry, it’s advisable to obtain a relevant degree or diploma in a subject such as furniture-making, furniture conservation and restoration, fine art, art history, or 3D design.
It’s also essential that you have a well-developed portfolio of restoration work and experience of volunteering at local museums and galleries or training under a reputed furniture conservator/restorer.
Becoming a registered member of a professional body, such as the British Antique Furniture Restorers Association (BAFRA) or the Institute of Conservation (Icon), is vital for building a strong reputation in the industry.
Training & progression
Training and development is primarily facilitated whilst on the job under the supervision of a senior restorer.
However, some organisations may also provide formal training sessions, which help junior furniture restorers to develop their skills and their ability to handle different types of furniture.
Career progression mainly revolves around moving into freelance work. However, some restorers may eventually move into managerial roles if they work for a large museum or UNESCO world heritage site.
Alternatively, some furniture restorers move into teaching jobs and pass on their knowledge and expertise to the next generation of conservation and restoration professionals.