One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “What is patina?” It is one of the most difficult things to describe, and yet it is that extra ingredient which transforms the surface of a piece of furniture from the ordinary to the exceptional. Put simply, patina is the surface formed by a combination of the ageing processes caused by rubbing, dusting and waxing, coupled with oxidisation of the wood and the action of the sun’s rays, producing a bronze-like lustre, or “skin”.
The flat yellow colour of walnut becomes golden and “honey-coloured”, with wonderful depth. Oak richens from dull grey to a deep, dark brown. Mahogany loses its reddish hue and softens to lovely gradations of brown, golden and grey. Finally, the dirt and dust of years which clings to corners plays its part by highlighting the paler, mellow surfaces; even the natural grease from fingertips which darkens areas around handles is an important factor.
Patina cannot be reproduced by the makers of fakes, and its qualities are an intrinsic part of the value of an antique. It takes two hundred or so years to form, but can be removed in an instant by the use of cleaners by unskilled restorers. Here in the Thakeham Furniture workshops, our team specialise in the preservation of patina. One of the finest examples we’ve had of patina recently is this beautiful quality George III linen press, dating from about 1790. The vivid colours of the decorative veneers and inlay have faded to a mellow hue, and it has a wonderful waxy sheen.