Taking care of your furniture: Say goodbye to dry
Ryan Summerlin October 7, 2012
We take time to moisturize our hair and skin to shield it from the dry and sunny climate in the Vail Valley, but rarely do we consider protecting furniture from the harsh elements.
But wood, leather and fabrics take a beating, due to sun and low humidity, often resulting in cracks, fading or separation in furniture.
The first preventative measure people can take to protect their furniture from harsh High Country elements involves the sun: Avoid placing furniture near windows that stream in direct sunlight; the ultraviolet rays usually cause fading and discoloration. Second-home owners have a bit more leeway; when they leave for a given time period, they can cover furniture located near windows with sheets and draw the shades down.
Once damage occurs, experts from Fibrenew, a furniture repair shop with four franchises located along the Front Range, discourage people from treating spots or discolored areas with markers, because markers rarely match the original color and result in an irregular look.
To maintain leather, they recommend keeping it out of sunlight and regularly applying leather cleaner. Never use olive oil, petroleum or other oils, or household cleaners or baby wipes on leather, they say, because it soaks into the leather, creating spots and discoloration – plus, it actually speeds up the deterioration process of leather. Household cleaners, in particular, may “work” in the short term to remove spots, but they ruin leather in the long run.
Surviving the dry
A lot of furniture comes from Indonesia, China and the East Coast, where the humidity is much higher than the Rocky Mountains, said Chris Smith, of P. Furniture and Design II in Avon. As a result, wood furniture often contains a lot of moisture; on average, the Vail Valley is about 4 to 7 percent lower in humidity than where manufacturers build furniture, said Glenn Thurston, owner of You’ll Never Know furniture repair company in Eagle.
More than half of his repair business focuses on split or cracked wood, due to dryness, he said.
“Solid wood is the best way to go,” Smith said, “and it’s easier to repair. Composites don’t hold up (as well).”
But a lot of furniture on the market is made from composites. So what’s an owner to do?
First of all, stay away from pine, since it’s so soft, Thurston said.
“Traditionally, pine is the worst,” he said, adding that the seams and splits in pine are bigger than in hardwood. “Where hardwoods are concerned, I wouldn’t say one is better than another.”
Thurston sees a lot of tables that dry out at the seams of the legs. When he repairs, say a 5-foot dining room table (which runs around $500, depending upon damage), he re-glues and clamps the legs together and then adds another support at a 45-degree angle, so the break doesn’t happen again.
For nonstructural fixes, such as a headboard drying out and separating, he fills in the cracks with epoxy putty, matching the shape, and then faux finishes the piece.
To minimize – and possibly even prevent wood damage due to low humidity – he suggests moisturizing furniture twice a year with oil moisturizers specifically designed for wood (available at most hardware stores).
But there’s a trick: Simply rubbing the oil onto finished wood won’t work, because lacquers protect the wood. Instead, rub the oil under the tabletop, where it’s not sealed, or inside and above drawers of a dresser. That way, the oil actually penetrates the wood, he said.
“Paying attention to your furniture extends its life, saves money,” said Brian Hugins, spokesperson for Fibrenew, “and prevents pieces from ending up in landfills.”