Conservation and Restoration of Fine Furniture and Objects
Art Deco Elevators
Art Deco elevator in Chicago's Powhattan Apartments
Art Deco elevator cab at Chicago's Powhatan Apartments building

Art Deco elevator after restoration
Detail of elevator interior after restoration

Art Deco Elevator; detail before and after adaptation
Art Deco elevator; detail after restoration
Art Deco Elevator - detail before restoration
Art Deco elevator - detail before restoration
Veneer matching
Elevator door - veneer layout
Fabrication of new door panels to accommodate mechanical modifications, updating elevators to current safety code

Damaged finish
Art Deco elevator cab - lower section of restored veneer
Sections of elevator panel depicted before, then after, conservation

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Art Deco Elevators
Circa 1929, Chicago, IL
Maple and Sycamore Veneer

These elevators posed a unique challenge. Not only had they withstood over eighty years of operation within Chicago’s landmark Powhatan Apartments, they’d remain in service post-treatment. Further, renovation of the gated, formerly operator-run elevators required updating to sliding doors, self-opening controls, and current safety code…while simultaneously retaining as much historical integrity as possible. Materials, applied finishes, fabrication, and installation were all subject to strict specifications for maintaining accuracy.


Logistics of the project were equaled by the sheer beauty of the elevators, themselves. Distinctive patterns of maple veneer covered interior walls, topped by matching rectangles in Sycamore. Polished steel ornamentation and mirror panels, flanked by sharp lines of ebonized wood, epitomized the striking geometry of Art Deco. But age – and visible prior patch-ups –impacted the elevators’ original glamour. Veneer was damaged from wear and staining, and sections throughout had lifted and released from substrate. Surface grime, wax, adhesive and pigment residue, and other detritus built-up over once-attractive finish with certain portions faded or uneven in color and tone. Inspection of ebonized finish revealed areas over-painted in inappropriate, contemporary material, as did the elevators’ trademark polished steel.


Bernacki & Associates embarked upon a tiered process to restore grandeur – and modernize – the elevators. Veneer was tackled first, with loose and lifting sections consolidated and missing sections replaced to blend with their surrounding figure. Multiple finishes meant a multi-faceted approach. Panel surface was meticulously cleaned of dust, debris, and residue and existing finish washed of unsightly stains, fogging, and wear. After preliminary sanding, surfaces received several coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, buffing, and polishing to satin finish. Lost ebonized areas were replaced and several coats of black base lacquer returned original eye-catching contrast to mirror panels. Next, the steel kick plate was restored with cleaning and fresh application of color and sealer, complementing original sheen. Once the elevators regained their 1920’s appearance, they were ready for the 21st century. Responsible for accommodating preparation for up-to-date mechanical modifications, Bernacki & Associates fabricated panels containing sliding doors and operating controls. New veneers matching in color and grain were connected to the original. The historic elevators soon returned to service, boasting a beautiful new “face-lift.”

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More about this project:
Adapting the Old into the Modern World–Art Deco Elevators Restoration