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The Big Fix

When time seems to have run out on your heirloom clock or the warped Georgian secretary has left you unglued, these masters of the broken arts will return them to pristine condition.


They're tucked away all over the apartment: your grandmother's cherished majolica tureen, the huge one with the cabbage leaves and mushrooms, ignominiously broken in four pieces in your last move; the Grundig Majestic tabletop radio that won't even receive static anymore; the Q-Tips box of Mikimoto pearls you've sworn for a decade you'd have restrung; the gilt-framed mirror spattered with black blotches; the cerulean cashmere turtleneck that miraculously still fits but has been feeding moths. Then there are those incredible steals you couldn't resist, knowing they were fixer-uppers: the Alvar Aalto floor lamp you don't dare plug in without rewiring and that glam recamier with upholstery so pitifully shredded even the cat can't be bothered.

Whether handed down from the family matriarch or scored at Housing Works Thrift Shop, whether a cunning investment or an impulse buy that won't be treasured by anyone but you, it still needs fixing, and finding the right person for the job can be daunting in this city of too many choices (too many of them wrong). We've taken the first step for you. Following is a select group of master artisans, technicians, and craftspeople who can perform the most astonishing magic on your wreckage: perfectly replicating the leg of a 200-year-old chair for an undetectable replacement, coaxing the grease stains out of a leather couch, rehabilitating a neglected Patek Phillipe watch, regilding a Royal Copenhagen lily, and much, much more than you ever dreamed was possible.


The damage to the marquetry on a diminutive nineteenth-century French end table had to be excised and replaced with new, custom-crafted inset pieces; then the table was cleaned and polished ($450). A golden-retriever puppy gnawed on the cabriole leg of a French gilded chair, also nineteenth-century, resulting in such grave disfigurement that a new leg had to be carved from, well, scratch ($800). Among the two dozen artisans working in the flower district atelier of Joseph Biunno Ltd., most were trained in the traditional guild system; walk among them and you will hear a cacophony of European languages emanating from the meticulously maintained workstations. The affable Biunno, son and grandson of restorers and in the business himself nearly three decades, will tackle mundane damage as well as the "oddball challenges we get from decorators," including conventional woodworking (cutting, bending, heating, drilling, polishing, and so on), welding, metalwork, and gilding. Biunno also produces an exquisite line of reproduction chairs and distinctive drapery hardware. (129 West 29th Street, second floor; 629-5630 or 629-5636.)

Carlton House Restoration has more than enough work to occupy a staff of eight (four cabinetmakers and four surface decorators and polishers). The specialty of the house, says the owner, Kenneth Dell, is eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pieces; it is not unusual to see one there worth half a million dollars, like the extremely rare leather-topped mahogany pedestal desk attributed to Thomas Chippendale Sr. that Dell resurrected some months back. But Dell takes on all manner of projects. Recently, gouges and lacerations in a small Art Deco table were repaired for $100; a weathered chestnut-brown leather-and-brass barber's chair from the thirties with a disconnected footrest and some minor dings and damage was restored for $250. Higher up the food chain was a $300,000 George II walnut secretary-bookcase (part of a suite made for the king of Spain). Dell had to reglue loose veneer and crossbanded molding, and ill-fitting sections and an equally ill-fitting drawer had to be wangled into alignment ($1,600). An unexpected bonus: While they were working, the restorers discovered several secret compartments in the desk that Dell guessed hadn't been opened in over a century (empty, alas). (545 Eighth Avenue, near 37th Street, ninth floor; 239-6635.)

Timothy Riordan is a veteran of Sotheby's restoration division who has been on his own for the past seventeen years. He prefers repairing Regency and Federal (or earlier) pieces; Victorian items, in the estimation of this extravagantly ingratiating man, "usually cost more to repair than the piece is worth." He favors repairing and polishing furniture rather than losing the original finish by stripping and refinishing. He's worked on modest pieces, like a late-eighteenth-century English country oak ladder-back chair, the seat of which was badly broken; a new piece had to be fitted, spliced in, stained, finished, and polished to match the original patina ($300). The considerable work on a set of eight "glamorous but exceedingly damaged" mahogany Regency side chairs (a real find at the William Doyle auction house) included everything from mending wobbly and broken legs to fixing dings and scratches to polishing and reupholstering the seats; average cost, $380 to $425 per chair. Generally, Riordan tries to keep his minimum fee at $150. (50 Webster Avenue, New Rochelle; 212-360-1246 or 914-235-6424.)

"The carcass has to be reframed," Angelo Montaperto says of a George I sideboard that will cost $4,000 to fix.

A third-generation Florence-born furniture worker, Angelo Montaperto learned his trade by making case goods such as desks and dressers. He will take on simple jobs like regluing and strengthening a chair frame or replacing a turned or carved leg ($300). But his skills are more seriously challenged by a George I sideboard, oak with inlaid mahogany and raised beading around the drawers, whose structure is wildly off-kilter. "The carcass has to be reframed," Montaperto says. In addition, he has to close gaps, fit drawers, attach moldings, repair broken parts, make a few new pieces, and then clean and polish the entire piece ($4,000). (216 West 18th Street, Room 602; 691-5006.)

Surface Decoration and Gilding

Five generations of Irish artisans in the furniture trades produced the charming and gregarious Dee Keegan, in America only since 1986. She, too, is a veteran of Sotheby's, where she dreamed of opening a school based on the old-world guild system. Her institute, the Renaissance Trade School, has now been in operation for several years in Hudson, where her workshop is also located -- and where she has lots of space. Her specialty is painted surfaces and gilding, and she has worked on everything from castles and vintage cars to Victorian sewing boxes and telescopes.

Keegan recently refitted a broken finial onto a vintage Edwardian chiffonier sideboard (adding an internal armature for stability, filling in the cracks, polishing, and antiquing it) for a mere $75. A small imitation Victorian bamboo stand had a broken section that had to be replaced, matched, and touched up ($150). A bedside Art Deco locker, with a veneer that had previously been stripped, painted, and poorly varnished, had to be restripped, reveneered, and refinished. In addition, the piece needed a handle for a drawer, and splinters in its surface had to be filled in ($400). A major overhaul of a Regency long-case (grandfather-style) clock cost $1,500. Keegan also produces a series of informational videos on antique furniture styles and periods. (At Walker's Mill Antiques, 549 Warren Street, Hudson, New York; 518-822-0770.)

The Fitzkaplan Studio (Diane Fitzgerald and Eve Kaplan) specializes in painted decorative finishes, lacquer, and gilding, and employs about half a dozen artists, who charge $50 per hour.

The experienced partners work mostly on furniture, mirrors, and objects (like candlesticks), but they will tackle anything; a veritable mountain of furniture and accessories is piled just inside the studio's entrance. One unusual item plucked from this repository was a wooden Persian wedding mirror -- a sort of mirror in a box, behind altarlike doors -- the surfaces of which were all radiantly festooned with bright florals. Missing pieces had to be constructed and painted, and gaps sealed ($1,000). A pair of eighteenth-century Venetian throne chairs, also wood, partially gilded, were in woeful condition, their colors mismatched, shedding their gilding in clumps. Restoration for the pair ran about $1,300. A sumptuous cinnabar-lacquer altar table with an over-the-top gilded garnish was cracked down the center; after the structure was repaired, the background was painted and the gold embellishment was hand-applied to match the rest of the field ($1,200). (131 Varick Street, tenth floor; 989-8779.)

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