Conservation and Restoration of Fine Furniture and Objects
Warm Touch, by Bart Bjorneberg
Historic Dollhouse after restoration

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Sometimes conservation requires microscopy, vacuum tables, lasers and exotic materials. Sometimes it just takes a “warm touch.”

A significant work, by a prime Art Nouveau designer, Louis Majorelle’s "Les Orchidées” Vitrine, arrived for conservation. The piece had obvious problem areas in the finish. Introduction of moisture had caused a light-colored circle in the middle of the bottom display area. This outer circle contained five smaller white circles within…typical of finish delaminated by moisture exposure. The importance and quality of the Vitrine required we do nothing to alter the original finish. Adding new finish, reversible or not, would not be acceptable. Solvents or glues would also risk damage to the original. But we still needed to stabilize the finish for long term display and, of course, remove the visually-marred areas.

Warmth was all that was needed. We used a small heating iron with a triangular head; sanded so its edges were rounded and smooth. The temperature setting was dialed to “very low.” Excess heat could alter color and patina of the underlying wood, therefore controlled applications of heat were critical to the intended result. Introducing small amounts of heat to delaminated areas, we slowly softened and reattached the finish. Over the course of days, application of heat was interspersed with long cooling times to monitor color and surface, and carefully controlling reaction. The heating iron was used like a small brush, gradually blending and darkening, as delaminated finish settled and the true color of the wood became visible. The damaged areas gradually faded into ghost images, then disappeared altogether.

Read the full version of “Warm Touch” on the Conservation & Design International Website

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