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Q: I found a great steel cabinet with glass doors at an office-liquidation sale. But it doesn't look like the polished stuff I see in design magazines -- it's this horrible green, with rust spots. Who'll strip it down and clean it up?

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A: Brace yourself. New customers are always "a little shocked" when they bring a piece in, says Gil Shapiro, co-owner of Urban Archaeology (143 Franklin Street, 431-4646; and other locations). "You can find a metal barrister bookcase for $60, $70, $80 for the whole stack, and the restoration can cost a couple of thousand." It's not just a matter of taking the paint off, he explains: Once stripped, the piece has to be polished -- requiring hours of hand work -- and then clear-coated or painted. "Otherwise," says Shapiro, "it'll rust if you breathe on it."

Most furniture dealers suggest an auto-body shop to strip and repaint, but in practice few are willing. One notable exception is Cooper Classics, the downtown antique-car specialists (132 Perry Street; 929-3909). For a dressier finish, try Hygrade Polishing and Plating (22-07 41st Avenue, Long Island City; 800-427-7472 or 718-392-4082). This custom shop will take on small jobs, and even picks up and delivers (for a fee). Ballpark prices, according to owner Ed Byers: For a six-foot-high glass-door medical cabinet, expect to pay about $250 for stripping. Clear-coating that piece runs about $400; plating in satin-finish nickel is about $500; a black-nickel plating job ("really nice," says Byers) will be about $1,000.


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