In the world of fine arts, decorative arts has a distinct place. The decorative arts cover a vast array of art objects that have both a specific function and an element of design. Porcelain, antique furniture, clothing, tapestries and rugs are a just few examples of the variety within this collecting category.
The decorative arts can also encompass contemporary pieces from mid-century to the 1980s and beyond. These can be more aesthetic than functional – for example, designers may choose to focus on the look or beauty of a decorative chair, rather than its use or comfort.
Handle With Care!
Contemporary decorative arts have another outstanding feature: Increasingly, they use experimental materials such as plastics and fiberglass. Nontraditional materials can have adverse effects on the value of a piece if not preserved properly. For example, plastics used in a decorative chair can yellow within 10 years due to sunlight exposure. Unfortunately, this damage is often irreparable.
Organic materials such as wood are often utilized in furniture making. However, wood naturally expands and contracts with extreme fluctuations in the temperature and humidity of its environment, which can cause cracks. For this reason, experts recommend temperatures should be stabilized at 72 degrees Fahrenheit with a 50% humidity level.
Upholstery, rugs and tapestries can also fade easily and are highly susceptible light damage. Mitigation strategies that are sometimes recommended by conservators include installing UV film on windows or simply positioning the art piece in a darker location.
Placing pieces in direct traffic areas increases the risk of them being easily knocked down. Similarly, fragile items like porcelain and glass objects can be better preserved within glass cases. Preservationists can also train the owner and his/her staff on how to properly clean decorative art (for example, cleaning with the wrong solutions can strip off paint finishes).
One of the riskiest things owners can do is try to repair decorative art by themselves. In one instance, an art owner used superglue to bond a cracked porcelain dish. After a year, the glue began to brown and the cracks that were previously invisible to the eye were now apparent. The glue stain had seeped into the porcelain, and sadly, this damage was irreversible.
In addition, because many owners are actively using their decorative art, they don’t necessarily take care of their pieces in the same way as they would in their fine art collection. Obtaining the advice of an expert, such as an appraiser, on how to take care of decorative art is highly recommended. This advice can help educate owners on how to extend the life of their pieces for years to come.