French Provincial Bed Frame c.1880

Restoration by Mike Thompson and Gordon Arthur
December 2009

restoration project

Introduction

This piece is a provincial French bed frame from the mid-to-late 19th century constructed of walnut and oak with a later fruitwood headboard rosette. It was rescued from a chateau in north-west France.

Client's Instructions

The Client's instructions were to restore the bed frame conservatively, retaining as many of its original features as possible, consistent with the need to repair or replace damaged areas and missing pieces where necessary. Although a lighter colour was requested, it was not possible to achieve this because of the naturally dark colour of French walnut and the need to stain areas which had suffered significant damage. Over-restoration was to be avoided so that the character and appearance of this fine piece of furntirure might be retained.

Condition

The bed frame was presented in original dismantled condition in need of significant repair and restoration. Lateral ties connecting the side frames were not presented and it is assumed these are available. If missing, it would be a simple matter to construct new ones, but it is unlikely that contemporary timbers would be readily available for this purpose.

Although many defects were uncovered during detailed examination, obvious issues included:

  • two missing finials
  • signs of light bleaching to all exposed panels, some of which had split
  • evidence of woodworm infestation (probably common furniture beetle - Anobium Punctatum) in oak and fruitwood parts although the walnut was not affected
  • a splintered leg, and
  • probably worst of all (although not structurally important) there was significant invasive denting and staining on one side of the footboard probably occurring over a considerable period of time; it is a matter of conjecture as to how this particular damage might have occurred.

Restoration Procedures

a) Initial Cleaning

The bed frame was washed with methylatedspirits to remove superficial dirt and to establish the extent of further restorative treatment necessary.

b) Headboard

Parts of the headboard wer in need of considerable attention. It had sustained dark spotting in several places, due possibly to a reaction to the natural oils and tannins in the timbers to a smoky environment, or to fungal attack. The affected parts were bleached twice and coloured to match the remainder. Splits in the walnut panels and joints were glued and clamped.

headboard in workshop

Some of the applied decorative elements were missing or damaged and were repaired or replaced as required. The woodworm infestation in the oak sections was checked and deemed to be inactive, so the holes were filled. Panel areas affected by the absence of light (possibly where bedding e.g. pillows, had been placed over many years) were carefully stained to match the remainder as much as possible.

headboard in workshop

Although it was not possible to elminate the distinction entirely, these colour variations are a very clear indication that the piece has age, and add to its authenticity. After repairs, etc. wre completed, the headboard was French-polished and waxed.

c) Rosette

It is believed the headboard rosette might have been a later addition to replace an earlier feature. Evidence of this is that the rosette is carved in fruitwood of a significantly differently different colour to the remainder of the headboard and that there are redundant nailholes in the headboard. Nevertheless, it is a highly attractive feature, which entirely complements the headboard. The woodworm infestation was checked and deemed to be inactive, so the holes were filled. It was then stained to match the headboard, French-polished and then waxed.

rosette

rosette closeupNote the exquisite carvings and attention to detail. The three imitation screw heads above and below the centre plaque typify the skill of an accomplished wood carver.

d) Footboard

The footboard required significant attention. It had sustained serious invasive denting and staining on one side of the footboard panelling (bed side), probably occurring over a considerable period of time. It is a matter of conjecture as to how this particular damage might have occurre. Panel areas affected by the absence of light (possibly where bedding, eg. pillows, had been placed over many years) are clearly visible.

footboard

There was also dark spottin in several places, due possibly to a reaction of the natural oils and tannins in the timbers to a smoky environment, or to fungal attack. The panels were twice bleached then carefully scraped and hand-sanded to remove as much of the damaged surface as possible, consistent with the need to retain as much as possible of the original patina. It must be remembered that one panel had been seriuosly damaged and restoration to a smooth condition was not possible. Nevertheless, the improvement over the original condition could clearly be seen. Parts infested with woodworm were deemed to be inactive, so the holes were filled.

restored footboard

After repairs had been completed the footboard was stained to match the headboard, French-polished and then waxed.

e) Side Frames

The side frames responded well to initial cleaning. An attached piece of splintered headboard leg was removed from one of then, with its associated captive nut, was refitted to its correct location on the headboard leg. The connecting tongues were cleaned. A bent and rusted frame bolt serving the splintered leg/headboard connection was straightened as much as possible, having regard to its age and condition.

sideframe damage

 

further damage to sideframe

Once repaired, the frames were stained and French-polished and then waxed.

f) Finials

Two new finials were turned in beech to match the style of the existing two. They were made slightly larger and fitted to the footboard to provide an overall balanced look. They were then stained to match the existing finials and all four were French-polished and waxed.

Completion

The restored bed frame was completely assembled to check that it fitted together properly before being returned to the client in dismantled condition.

restored bed

 

restored bed

Care Procedures

The deep sheen finish should be maintained sympathetically with a high quality beeswax furniture polish. On no account should proprietary spray cleaner/polishers be used, especially those containing sillicones. Old wisdom states that furniture should be waxed as follows:

  • Once a day for a week
  • Once a week for a month
  • Once a month for a year, and
  • Once a year for life

However it will be quite sufficient if this piece is dusted regularly and waxed occasionally. Care should be taken to ensure that wax is applied according to the manufacturer's instructions and buffed by hand to a deep sheen.

Mike Thompson and Gordon Arthur