Antique furniture restoration is a key part of the antiques business. Restorers have the daunting task of faithfully repairing any damage or wear on original pieces. Their work allows antiques to fit into the modern home with style, all while maintaining the original design and build of centuries-old art.
Jane Henry is one such restorer. Her studio, in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City, is filled to the brim with the tools of her trade, and treasures from her many clients. “I get more requests than I can keep up with,” says Henry, who starts her days early, before most of her employees, all experts in various trades, come into the studio.
We visited her during that time, in the morning, catching her restoring the rim of a beautiful ceramic amphora while the city woke around her.
An Artist by Trade
Jane Henry began her career as a restorer during her college time. An art student, her passion for painting and sculpture was a natural prerequisite for the kind of work required of a high-end restorer. Indeed, her skills make her a rare one-stop destination for all things art restoration: in addition to her ceramic and woodwork services, she restores paintings as well.
Her great aunt and uncle worked in restoration. “In other words, I’ve always been around this kind of stuff.”
Watching her at work, you get the sense that Henry communicates with the objects she restores. There is confidence in her approach, but not the kind that overwhelms an object’s original artistry. Instead, her own artistic sensibilities enhance and enrich the pieces she touches. It’s no wonder, then, that her favorite things to restore are family heirlooms.
“I just did a ceramic project for this woman, close to ninety. It was a piece by a famous Polish artist, and she’d gotten it as a wedding present. It was broken and seeing her face light up when it was all back together – that’s the favorite part of my job for me.”
But Henry is by no means limited to small individual pieces. During our visit, she showed us a row of church pews she had just finished restoring for a local congregation. “We do all kinds of stuff. Big and small.”
Learning by Doing
Antique furniture restoring is a craft of many crafts. The skills needed to fix the gilding on an antique mirror are not the same as those used in portrait restoration, of course. That’s why much of Henry’s work is done in tandem with constant research.
“Now that I’m in my fifties, I’m finding that trying to figure out how to do something by reading about it is coming to me more naturally than it did when I was a student,” she quips. Her workshop is filled with books alongside the many tools she uses in her work. “Both books and the internet come in handy.”
Even years of knowledge don’t always protect you from the side effects of working with chemicals. Restoring a huge painting from England gave Jane lead poisoning. Since then, she’s transformed her approach to restoration, ending her use of toxic chemicals.
And long gone are the days in which Henry would tackle every kind of restoration work – from welding to gilding – alone.
“What I love about my shop right now is that I have such a variety of people working for me. I have someone who just moved here from Russia working for me as a metal worker. And someone from Puerto Rico, someone from Ecuador. It’s really fun that they all come from different places and bring their own traditions into their experience.”
One person has been by Jane Henry’s side for decades. Kirsten, her assistant is her trusted right hand in the workshop. “We make a very interesting pair. She’s like family.”
Jane Henry considers New York City her stomping grounds. “I have spent very, very short stints outside of this city, but mostly as a kid.”
Recalling time abroad with her artistic parents, Henry associates the development of her passions with the way she was raised. “My family lived in Italy for a little while because my parents were on sabbatical from teaching. And that was beautiful, but I was very young.”
Not living in New York never really crossed her mind. “It didn’t occur to me that there was another place to move. I swore I would never go to California.” Her daughter’s education and a commissioned project did end up bringing Henry to the West Coast. “But never for long.”
In her years of practice, she’s left her mark on the city in more ways than one. “I gilded the inscription on the Bandshell in Central Park. That was me!”
A New Momentum
On an average day, Henry receives about forty requests via email. “It’s completely overwhelming. And I’m not on my phone while I work, so I spent hours at night responding to potential clients.”
She never really expected things to get as busy as they have. “It’s really weird to build up this kind of professional momentum in your fifties. I feel like I’m expected to retire in ten years.” Judging from the joyful way she moves around her space, that’s not a day she is positively anticipating. “I’m going to work as long as I can. Absolutely.”
Telling a Story Through Antique Furniture Restoration
There is a quality of exhumation to antique restoration, one that enables an object to connect with a new generation. Jane Henry’s work feels personally important to our mission at Styylish. That’s because the passion she feels for connecting with a storied object is akin to our passion: to bring treasures with unique stories into your home.
Indeed, an antique doesn’t have to be a family heirloom in order to become one. As someone like Henry can tell you, an object’s story is only ever just beginning. Make an antique part of your story today.
To inquire about Jane Henry’s antique furniture restoration services, visit her website and follow her on social media @janehenrystudios.