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RESTORERS GIVE AILING FURNITURE A POLISHED NEW LOOK

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Just as with unhappy families, unhappy sofas and chairs may need a little therapy. The person to call is a furniture restorer, who can reglue a side chair, remove cat scratchings from a table leg, reproduce missing marquetry from vintage woods or even rebuild joinery as it was done centuries ago.

For finishing most antiques, restorers prefer a French polish, a technique in which shellac is rubbed by hand on a wood surface in a circular motion for a glassy finish. A wax finish is commonly used to create a quiet sheen on pre-18th century English furniture, and varnish is often applied to protect more modern pieces that get heavy use. With modern items, restorers often experiment with colored pore fillers to highlight the grain subtly or with exotic stains for dramatic colors.Many restorers caution against putting off repairs because the damage will only worsen. They also warn against upholstering before restoration, since fabric can rarely be reused once it has been removed. Most shops charge by the hour, usually $50 to $70, and it can cost as much to repair an item of purely sentimental value as a precious antique.

"This was made less than a decade ago and is probably worth a few hundred dollars," said Kenneth R. Dell, the owner of Carlton House Restoration, as he pointed to a reproduction Chippendale library ladder that needed cleaning and polishing (about $300). "And this," he said, running his hand along the carved leg of an English armchair with a fractured rail, "was made in the 18th century and is probably worth $60,000" ($3,500 to $4,000).

Restorers are found all over New York City, particularly in the West 20s in Manhattan. Most make house calls.

When Dell's previous employer, Regency Restorations, went out of business two years ago, he purchased its tools and vintage wood and opened Carlton House Restorations, which specializes in fine antiques. To restore the carved, Cuban mahogany back splats on 10 Chippendale side chairs, he glued wood to the damaged areas, then carved the pieces to match the acanthus leaves on the originals. Dell matched the wood by finding an old Cuban mahogany table leaf of the same density. To fill in holes in a table leg that a dog had chewed, Dell used a shellac stick melted in a portable heater, then masked the repair by applying pigments. The firm charges $65 an hour. Carlton House Restoration is located at 245 W. 29th St., New York City, NY 10001; (212) 239-6635.

Antique Conservation, Maryalice Huggins's 13-year-old company, is a family business. Her sister, Susan, a muralist, does decorative painting. Her brother, Robert, makes custom furniture. Huggins, whose firm specializes in 18th-century and decorative pieces, has been a restorer for 24 years. She likes to see objects with previous repairs because they indicate that the items are old. If a previous restoration is unsightly or unstable, she replaces it with similar materials. But if a repair does not detract, she leaves it alone. "I like an item to look as if it still has age on it," she said, pointing to small scratches on the leg of a painted chest. With less venerable objects, Ms. Huggins takes a radical approach. A pair of gleaming black side tables, for example, were stripped and coated with tinted gesso, a red base coat, a black glaze and a French polish, then embellished with ornamental brass mounts. She charges $60 an hour. Antique Conservation is located at 129 W. 29th St., New York City, NY 10001; (212) 947-6946.

Juan Angel Pogonza played tango music recently as he labored over a lock and key he made as part of his restoration of an armoire. Pogonza, who was a guitar maker in his native Argentina, works with metal as well as wood, and can duplicate the intricate elements of original locks. He charges $50 an hour, with a four-hour minimum. Juan Angel Pogonza is located at 526 W. 26th St., New York City, NY 10001; (212) 691-6251.

When an imposing Biedermeier desk arrived at Traditional Line, an architectural woodworking shop that also restores furniture, it had lost its original feet, had a damaged key plate and was slathered in dingy polyurethane. The desk now stands on graceful bun-shaped feet and has a new 19th-century-style key plate and a glossy French polish. The 11-year-old company, which charges $60 an hour, does marquetry repairs as well as simpler jobs. Contract Traditional Line at 143 W. 21st St., New York City, NY 10011; (212) 627-3555.

In the workshop of ECR Antique Conservation and Restoration, a restorer worked with a lathe to make delicate new turnings copied from the few that remained on a Moroccan chest. Bug holes in a French Empire side table awaited fillings made of pumice and an oil-based solution. The company also repairs chairs, tightening and regluing corner blocks where the side rails meet the legs. To determine if a chair needs work, Eli C. Rios, who owns the business, suggests placing a knee at the front of the cushion, putting a hand on each side of the chair back, and shaking it gently, noting any movement. Repairs start at $175, including cleaning and polishing. ECR Antique Conservation and Restoration is located at 515 W. 29th St., New York City, NY10001; (212) 643-0388.