The revival of an Antique heirloom wardrobe

The Revival of an Antique Heirloom Wardrobe


A Family Heirloom

This 19th-century hall robe was brought in by our client, who wanted to preserve its charm and return it to its former grandeur.  Historically, standing wardrobes are part of the evolution from trunks to modern-day closets for the essential household function of holding linens.  Ranging from simplistic to opulently adorned, wardrobes can be full of craftsmanship and character.  Handed down over the years through three generations, this piece served as fine clothing and coat storage indoors and then, as the years passed and home décor changed, as storage in a garage.  Having admired the antique cabinet in the garage since her childhood, our client was thrilled to receive the wardrobe from her grandparents for her new home.


A 19th century wood wardrobe with single door and arched inset panels before restoration.




Determination of Style

The piece piqued our interest with its attractive construction and design elements.  The cabinet is nicely finished and adorned on all four sides, allowing it to be viewed in its entirety, rather than simply against a wall.  The carved, scalloped cornice adds an interesting decorative element, yet its open grain and rustic carving are less refined than the ogee profile millwork present throughout the rest of the exterior and interior.  The inset birds-eye maple cathedral-shaped panels on the exterior add further elegance and complexity to the design.  While we cannot attribute a particular style to this piece, we must wonder if it was constructed through a marriage of found panels and different architectural components long ago.





Condition – Good Bones with Fragile Finish

The wardrobe arrived at our studio with extensive damage to the finish. The lower edge was severely blanched from exposure to moisture and the top had heavy water stains. Sections of the crown molding, escutcheon, and doorknob were broken off and missing. 

The door was misaligned in the frame and was difficult to open and close. The exterior sustained the brunt of the exposure, fortunately leaving the interior finish in much better condition. When reviewing the interior, there were sections of varied finishes, illustrating multiple previous campaigns of repair and modification.  The cast iron coat hooks appear to be original to the piece, with related historic wear to the wood surrounding each hook.

Detail of a 19th century wardrobe showing a broken wood knob and hardware before restoration
An interior view of a 19th century wood wardrobe with opened door and hooks before restoration.


It was time for us to do our part to extend the life of this wonderful wardrobe. Despite the condition issues, the wardrobe was in good shape structurally, allowing us to focus on refinishing the exterior.  The degraded external finish was removed, exposing the raw wood underneath.  Sections of wood were shaped, planed, and hand-carved then seamed into the loss sections in the crown molding and escutcheon. The raw wood surface was refinished with a comparable walnut tone to emulate the original and then varnished with shellac.  The good condition of the interior allowed for the display of the original character of the wardrobe creation, and other than a light cleaning and application of wax was left untouched. The hinges on the door were realigned and adjusted so the door could properly open and close.  Finally, a protective coat of wax was applied and hand buffed to unify the overall sheen.



Successful Restoration

The restored hall robe has been moved into our client’s new home to resume its role and provide years of service as it did over a century ago.  With its unique and functional design, family history, and good structural condition, this piece was a great candidate for restoration.  Our treatment now adds further to the life and story of this piece.

People often find it surprising to learn that antique furniture can withstand damage and heavy use better than contemporary furniture.   Antique furniture that is functional can not only be decorative but can always find relevance in the future.


A detail of the arched inset panels on the door of a 19th century wood wardrobe after refinishing and restoration.

If you have a piece of furniture in need of potential restoration, contact us today.  We can treat items in our studio and when appropriate, can make house calls to treat furniture onsite. 



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