A finish on a piece of wooden furniture is intended to protect the wood surface from damage and to enhance the beauty of the piece. If an item is lacking a good finish, the environment can adversely affect the wood.
So, the short answer to this question is NO, refinishing a piece of furniture does NOT decrease the piece’s value… but there are a few circumstances that need to be considered.
1) Is your furniture item the first of its kind? Is it considered "period furniture"? An example would be a federal secretary cabinet that was made in the late 1700's or a later reproduction made in the 1870's. Note: Just because an item is an antique (over 100 years old) doesn't make it a period piece.
Instead of refinishing a period piece, Finish Pros recommends preserving it to prevent further damage. Another option is to restore the period piece while carefully documenting the steps taken so that the methods can be reversed if need be. For example, if a veneer piece is jagged along the edges, we can use a fill that can be removed at a later date therefore not permanently affecting your family heirloom or the historical significance.
2) Was the piece once owned by a historically significant person or from a historical location?
In this instance, refinishing an item that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, Amelia Earhart or in a Norman Rockwell painting should be addressed on a case by case basis. Our team would love to know the stories behind you family heirloom and help with the furniture restoration techniques are best suited to retain the historical significance.
3) Did a notable cabinetmaker, designer or craftsman make the piece?
In cases such as these, we recommend restoring the piece of furniture instead of refinishing it. That means that the old finish is not removed but can be cleaned, waxed or even top coated. Keeping the original finish is critical to maintaining the value of the piece. Gustuv Stickley was a noted furniture designer and manufacturer of fine arts and crafts style furniture in the early 20th century. Original Stickley furniture retaining an original finish demands premium prices from collectors. However if a Stickley item must be refinished, then appropriate stain tones, finishing products and techniques should be used. At Finish Pros, our experts have decades of experience in antique furniture restoration that allow us to identify your piece of furniture’s history.