Restoring Antique Dining and Side Chairs

MPF Conservation specializes in antique furniture restoration, furniture repair, antique upholstered furniture, and traditional woodworking.  This page documents various types of dining or side chairs.

Late Victorian “Eastlake” Cane Chairs, right, circa 1885. Damaged joinery repaired, new caning, restored finish.

Dining or Side Chairs might be finished with shellac or might be polychrome, with oil paint, lacquer, or jappan paints. Most have no upholstery at all, but some have needlepoint or other padded seat.

In most cases, the chairs below had a variation of the following performed on them. We will only publish the differences in this list, under “Details”. Note: Frames are often not completely disassembled due to issues in the frame or it is not necessary.

  • Disassemble as necessary
  • Inspect parts for viability
  • Clean all parts as needed
  • Repair / reglue / amend broken parts
  • Replicate missing parts
  • Tacking margins filled with hardwood pins (if upholstered)
  • Cotton batting topper (if upholstered)
  • Muslin undercover encased buildup (if upholstered)
  • Apply showcover (if upholstered)
  • CHOOSE Finish Method below:
  • Historic varnish is amended with several coats of pure shellac and rubbed to patina or French polished OR
  • Historically accurate varnish coating with combinations of gums, tree resins, oils, waxes and natural earth pigments is applied  OR
  • Historic painted finish is repaired and amended as needed

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

Boston Painted Fan Back Windsor circa 1760

Painted Windsor’s historic paint was dirty and badly chipped exposing bare wood, shown above left. MPFC placed museum approved barriers onto damaged areas to seal, and infilled as appropriate.

Note: The “streak” of darker paint on the seat is original to the chair.

Underside of the chair, right; after, below, showing the lovely curve.

After treatment, one of several chairs above; below, samples of the condition issues.

Six French Second Empire Etruscan Revival Polychrome Cane Chairs circa 1800

The six chairs had various levels of damage.

They were built of European Beech wood solids with hand-woven cane seats. In all cases the historic painted finish cleaned and infilled. Gold oil paint infused with gold powder.

Below, images of various types of damage.

Before treatment, below, and after treatment, above.  

Original Stickley Armchair and Four Side Chairs circa 1900

Gustav Stickley (1858–1942), American designer.

Some of these chairs with original leather were be set aside in our client’s home and gently used; a couple with ripped seats were reupholstered for everyday use.


  • MPFC protected the original stickers where applicable
  • Showcover leather was hand-dyed to match historic leather, shown above

For a full accounting of process see our blog post:

American Second Empire Greek Revival circa 1820

Detail: We cleaned and blocked the family needlepoint before replacing onto the newly upholstered buildup.

Nineteen Century Chinese Pear Wood Side Chairs circa 19th Century

The pear wood chairs were created using double and triple tenon compression styled joints which relied upon a tenon-to-mortise tight fitting rather than glues to secure joints. They had begin to wobble within the joinery connections.

They were finished with polymerized tongue oil varnish.


  • Thin pear wood splines were created to amend the worn mortise and tenons.
  • They were soaked in warm hide glue and tamped into the mortises, sturdying the wobbly joins.
  • Pear wood spline fulcrums were installed between the shrunken armtop-to-inside back rail and between the arm front stile and seat platform connection.
  • Joinery fissures were treated with a molten resin infused wax.
  • The historic varnish was cleaned then treated with a hard wax application and burnished.

Before, above, and after below left.

American Spanish White Oak Baroque Revival Eclecticism Chair circa 1880

The entire back broke from seat; someone previously tried gluing the breaks suing carpenter glue which glogged the grain fibers and ultimately failed.

Both decorative turned inside back stiles (connecting to the seat apron) were cross-grain sheared, requiring the creation of a bored mortise & tenons in order to resecure.

The historic strié velvet was able to be saved, blocked, and topically cleaned before it was reupholstered onto the seat.

Above, before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.
Below, before treatment, left; middle, details of treatment; and after treatment, right.  

Six “Lenox Shops Furniture” Dining Chairs (Four Painted Splats) circa 1950

The dining chairs were a family heirloom handed down from our client’s grandmother, with second generation fabric on the seat and backs.

Two of the painted splats had some serious scratches, the other two had small scratches. One armchair had a serious break in the frame.

One of our prettiest projects!

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.  

Mason Monterey Chair circa1930

Hand-painted in the Mason Monterey factory in downtown Los Angeles, California. The style is derived from Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, California Mission and simple ranch furnishings.

Chair was stripped by someone in the family; thankfully they did not repaint it. Little was left on the chair which was previously dipped; we chose to match the chair’s design with a design seen in our Mason files.

See page on Desks for information on the Mason Monterey Desk.

Above, before treatment, left, and after treatment, right in each pair.  

Mason Monterey A-Frame circa 1930

Hand-painted in the Mason Monterey factory in downtown Los Angeles, California. The style is derived from Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, California Mission and simple ranch furnishings.

Our client has several pieces of Monterey furniture from his grandparent’s ranch. The frame was loose, and needed to be secured to be stable. The armchair was used around marine paint, and the grey paint, suitable for metal, had eaten the original oil-based paint off in long drips.

As we conserved the finish, the oil paint continued to assert itself through the infill. Our client agreed that we should find a halfway point between removing the marine paint and full restoration. We removed a good portion of the grey paint, secured the original Monterey paint, and performed infill in the areas where the decorative motif was missing.

Chairs with cushions will be covered on the page on cushion building.

A few Occasional Chairs can be used as dining chairs, as shown above.

Other dining and side chairs (some with upholstered seats) can be found in Mason Monterey collection in the Oregon Caves National Monument, the Imperial collection in Crater Lake National Park, Victorian Balloon-Back Chairs from the McLoughlin House, high-backed chairs from Maryhill Museum: Queen Marie Collection, a Green Man side chair from the Amasa B. Campbell House, balloon-back side chairs from Hanley Farms, and the Berkey and Gay chairs.

If you are interested in other wooden objects, see below: