Interview: the restoration expert

Set up by Matt Stevens in 2007, Stevens Furniture Restoration is a company we have been collaborating with for the past 6 years. We talked to Matt about the challenges and rewards of the industry and why he chose this unusual career.

Why restoration?

I have always been fascinated by old furniture. How it is put together, how it ages and why two apparently identical pieces can be worth such different amounts. It is also a dying trade and I love helping preserve the art form as well as the furniture itself.

Where did you learn your skills?

I studied first at Lincoln for 2 years, completing a theory based course called “conservation and restoration” and from there went to Buckinghamshire University to take a degree in furniture restoration. This was much more hands-on and inspiring. I then spent some years moving from workshop to workshop picking up the different techniques and skills. My first real taste of work was in a box restoration company in Northamptonshire – writing slopes, tea caddies etc. I then moved on to a general furniture restorer in Hemel Hempstead and finally a specialist musical instrument restorer in East London.

What made you set up on your own?

I have wanted to run my own business since the day I started and it seemed like a natural progression after picking up the skills in other companies. But dealing with and helping people is something I really enjoy, whether it is bringing an item of sentimental value back to life or rescuing something of great monetary value. It is hugely satisfying.

What aspect of the business most appeals to you?

Restoration is unlimited and you never stop learning, but you have to be passionate because it is becoming an increasingly difficult industry to work in. I know so many businesses that have closed over the years because the business owners can’t pass on their skills to anyone or because they can’t afford their premises. It is very sad. But digging out and finding these techniques again is really gratifying.

Do you work with other specialists?

Yes, the nice thing about this line of work is that artists or artisans tend to gravitate to each other. We all have such specific skills that I might have 3 or 4 people working on one piece of furniture – we are all very inter-dependent. I now work with a great upholsterer and a wood turner as well as a really talented decorative artist.

Are there are any projects which you would love to be involved in?

Gold leaf and carving are my real passions so to be commissioned to restore furniture by the Versailles conservation department would be my dream!