Repairing Fine Furniture
These skillful craftsmen can masterfully repair, restore, and rejuvenate your furniture.
“Every year, the day after Thanksgiving is like Christmas for us,” chuckles affable Joseph Biunno, a third-generation craftsman and the owner of Joseph Biunno Ltd., furniture repairers. “The phone rings off the hook with urgent calls from people who have had ‘chair mishaps’ over Thanksgiving, and they all need them fixed by Christmas.”
Biunno, a 40-year veteran in this field, started when he was a kid, sweeping floors in his grandfather’s atelier, where faux finishes reigned. “What I know I didn’t read in a book,” he explains. “I gained my skills by working in this industry and by learning from talented artists.” A few years ago, Biunno moved his studio from the Flower District to Long Island City (21-07 Borden Avenue/Third Floor, Long Island City; 718 729-5630); currently he presides over eight employees in a 6,000-square-foot workshop. His talented artisans were mostly trained in Europe, earning their stripes and skills through the time-honored guild system. These gifted craftsmen tackle not only repairs and restorations but also fabricate made-to-order, perfect, period reproduction furnishings for prominent designers, decorators, and architects. While three-quarters of their repair work is to the trade, Biunno confirms that his artisans will just as readily work for private clients—they will pump life back into a modest, country-style, ladder-back dining chair or touch up the gilding on a cherished sconce.
Biunno’s facility houses, in addition to a full woodworking shop, a metalwork unit for soldering and welding; the craftsmen also fabricate a line of exquisite drapery hardware—everything from finials and cartouches to curtain rods, rings, and brackets. Additionally, Biunno maintains a massive inventory of oddball bits and pieces of hardware and metal fittings. “When I am driving around upstate, if you’re behind me, watch out,” he cautions. “I always brake for garage sales.” And all that foraging pays off. He says that he is frequently forced to root around his stash for the just-right hinge or lock for your armoire.
Popular repairs might include repair and touch-up work on the arm or leg of a wooden chair (about $150 to $180) or removing water rings from a tabletop ($250 to $325), a repair that he feels his artisans can do successfully “without having to do a complete strip-and-refinish.” He can also execute more “exotic” renovation jobs, like retrofitting a Victorian, English-style mahogany antique bed so that it will accommodate a modern mattress and box spring; one such job cost $8,000. Says Biunno proudly, “You could not even tell that it had been retrofitted to queen-size.” His talented staff also turned a mahogany mid-to-late-eighteenth-century dresser into a bathroom sink vanity.
Carlton House Restoration
Kenny Dell, owner of Carlton House Restoration, Inc., has been running his 12-person firm since 1995; the company focuses on repairing upmarket items for its designer and architect clientele. His Long Island City shop is busy and counts the official mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion, among its clients. (Carlton House repaired important American furniture for the mansion, including original Duncan Phyfe pieces.)
Like Biunno, Dell will carefully work on your treasured, less-pedigreed furniture. “Pedigree” is, perhaps, an apt choice of word, as Dell has on many occasions repaired canine-mangled chair and table legs. “Modern” furniture and mid-twentieth-century goods still make up the bulk of the jobs that the staff undertakes. A simple repair, say, on a chair leg with damage through the grain line might cost under $200, while the tariff for stabilizing a rickety, wobbly chair might be more like $400. “We take on all kinds of work,” states Dell, and he means it—whether the task involves a repair to a gilded, lacquered, painted, or Japanned surface. The company also builds custom furniture for elite designers, and Carlton House recently fabricated a unique oak dining table for a cool $90,000.
The exceptionally polite Timothy Riordan is a veteran of the now-long-defunct Sotheby’s Restoration operation; he has been a sole practitioner for nearly three decades (50 Webster Avenue, New Rochelle; 212-360-1246 and 914-235-6424; firstname.lastname@example.org; he does make house calls). He will work on pieces without a provenance, but he prefers older, higher-end antiques, “where you can justify investing a sum of money into a repair and perhaps even increase the value of the item. But that said, I would do a simple chair, things that are ‘bread-and-butter’ jobs.”
He usually repairs and polishes furniture, as opposed to stripping and refinishing pieces, but he will give you a fair appraisal of what can be done and suggest the best way to achieve the most desirable result. Last year he restored a large Regency-style table, which required well over 120 hours (and cost over $12,000). But less pricey was the work on a Louis XVI chair, which had the bottom section of a leg sheared off, and cost about $300; his woodworking and finishing work on a set of Sheraton armchairs netted out to about $600 apiece.
Ruth J. Katz is currently the Style Editor of Promenade magazine and has covered service, shopping, and design for more than 20 years as an editor at Redbook, Colonial Homes, Classic Home, The Modern Estate, and New York Home magazines; she wrote for many years for The New York Times and New York magazine and appeared weekly on Fox TV as the Home Services Editor. She is the author of five books.