Artist Q&A: How to Succeed

in the Restoration Market

 

The above photo shows an in-process photo of creating a missing piece by hand.

Looking to expand your horizons by taking on an additional specialty area that will provide you with creative fulfillment and financial success? You may find what you're looking for in the restoration market.

For this Artist Q&A, we spoke with decorative artist Natalie E. Tackett, who is the proprietor of Brushed in Bristol, Tenn. Natalie tells us about her experience in making restoration work a viable and important part of her business.

Focus on Faux: Can you tell your experience of how you came to get involved and focused on the restoration market?

Natalie: I have actually done restoration work for a very long time—even before I started dabbling in faux finishing. Mimicking the faux on much of my restoration pieces is what actually led me to become more curious about old school finishing such as gilding, wood graining and marbling. I think a lot of finishers seem to stumble into restoration work once they're on a job and a client asks if they could, say, "touch something up" (like an old picture frame) or match the color on a repaired cabinet door. With me, it was the opposite. Sometimes I think it would have been easier for me had I come into restoration work with a number of years as a decorative finisher under my belt, but it's actually given me a great deal of experience to look back on. I suppose we learn best from trial and error.

Natalie E. Tackett

Focus on Faux: What type of clients do you do work for?

Natalie: My clientele is really a mix. I can't say that I have a "type" per se, though 95% of my clients are private collectors and not dealers. [In my experience, the antique dealers who have contacted me are looking for quick and inexpensive repairs in order to turn a profit]. I may already do decorative finishing work for a client, and they discover I am also involved in restoration work; or they might be new customers who have heard from other clients that I am able to take on restoration projects. I should point out that the projects vary greatly, and it really depends on a client's emotional connection (or sense of duty to family to maintain the upkeep) to the piece that might need restoration or repair. I find that in the end, the emotional connection or sense of duty is often the deciding factor. I am asked regularly if the cost of the repair or restoration is more than the piece is actually worth. Many times it is. Sometimes it isn't. It's interesting to me that there isn't really a certain category that people fall into, rather the level of restoration work that I perform is typically tied to the client's love for the piece.

 

Related Post: Old World Attention to Detail, featuring a project by Natalie E. Tackett

 

Focus on Faux: How do you market your restoration services?

Natalie:  This is a question I've been asking myself more of lately as my waiting list for restoration and repairs is becoming much larger than my list for faux-finishing projects. Most of the marketing I do is by word-of-mouth, though I have added restoration and repair services to my cards. And posting before and after shots on social media is always helpful. I am also focused on quality vs. quantity in this area of my work. I tend to prefer referral-based opportunities (from vetted clients) as this segment of the market is usually appreciative of my work and willing to pay for the services I offer. Additionally, the word-of-mouth client is usually most responsive and has good communication and the willingness to get a signed estimate/contract and deposit to me right away.

Focus on Faux: Any advice for other artists thinking of pursuing this market?

Natalie: Well, I will say it's important for anyone considering restoration work to have a tremendous amount of patience. Since restoration and repair, in my opinion, depends on the actual restoration of the object, it's not usually about a quick fix. This part of the finishing market isn't about how many layers or passes you can do to make money, or even combining three or four steps into two or three. It's really more about doing the repair right, restoring a piece back to its original glory, and giving your client a small part of yourself when you return their beloved object. I suppose the best advice I can give to anyone considering this market as an addition to their business is this: Be willing to do the research, take the time to do a repair as close to the original method as possible, and take pride in realizing you're preserving a tiny part of history in your own small way.

   The above series of three photos is from the full-sized frame below. No pieces were provided.

 

Mother of pearl tiles were missing from this 1920s inlaid clutch. Natalie recreated them using what she had on hand during another on-call restoration in the client's home. 
   This frame repair was also created by hand (not cast), and the gold paint and age were matched perfectly.
   This panel was damaged and the pieces were hand-formed off-site by memory and (amazingly!) fit perfectly when Natalie installed them the next day.