An interview with Dom, providing an overview of his approach with a few examples of his work.
So, what are you Dom, a finisher or a polisher?
Both – a finisher is given a piece or pieces of furniture and it is his job to figure out how to get the look a client wants, no matter what, be it antique or modern. A finisher uses polishing as part of the process. So, this is different from just being a polisher. Sometimes you have to physically alter the wood to get the look you need to achieve, in terms of both texture and look. It can involve many complex processes. I often have to figure it out through inventing new ways.
Do you only work with wood?
I also finish metal, for example, bronzing brass, or simulating cast iron
So, how did you learn all this?
Well, I’m in my mid forties now – I first learnt in my early twenties, whilst working with an antique restorer. I then moved to a larger operation which was an incredible place to learn because there were no rules, you were just expected to get it right. There were many other tradesmen there, a collection of craftsmen, cabinet makers, artists, polishers, glasscutters, metal workers – all the skills required for high end antique restoration. I gleaned information and techniques and evolved those techniques in my own way.
I also learnt how different styles of furniture were made and so gained an appreciation of antiques and why things are made the way they are. Amongst many things I learnt how to make furniture look old – for example if there is an old table which required an new leg, the new leg has to be made to blend with the piece to which it has been added. This multi-stage process included ‘duffing’ which involved deliberately knocking / hitting wood to make it look as though it is old and used. You have to look at the piece and imagine where it would have been placed, in a kitchen, next to a window – really consider the effects of time, imagine the wear and tear, or the effect of sunshine on it to get the patina and feel of the rest of the piece.
What is the most demanding aspect of your work?
Well, there are many. For example using certain waxes such as carnauba, one of the hardest waxes. It can be very tricky particularly if you are applying it on a large twenty foot dining table. You have to get the wax evenly over the surface. Most times you use a buffing machine to get the wax heated in order to be able to move it across the surface. Previous to using a buffing machine you used to have to do hot waxing, heat a glove, with your hand inside it, melt the wax onto the glove and then smear the wax onto the top. It was painful because you had to get the wax very hot! Then I found a way of emulsifying carnauba which meant I didn’t have to heat it anymore.
A lot of people who call themselves polishers but are not – all they do is spray furniture which does not have the polisher’s element of skill. The look is not nearly as good as hand polishing. When you are hand polishing you are applying polish and compacting the finish, it give better clarity. If you are spraying you are just layering particles on top of each other, you are not getting the look, the clarity or the shine. It is quick, east to do and cheap. You get a modern look, the surface has particles and dimples which is a give-away that a piece has been sprayed. It can also give a mist through the finish. A good sprayer will spray and then give a hand finish at the end but there are not many of them doing this because it takes time and a degree of skill. I never spray, it just does not get the desired look.
So, what does it take to achieve a good finish?
Most finishers apply a stain to a piece of wood and then just finishes over the top. This is not what I do, I don’t aim to get the colour exactly right rather I achieve this through the different layers I apply. I like to pass through the colours rather than just come onto a colour. If you applied it directly to the wood then the light is not going to pass through the colour to give a real feel, a patina – a good piece of furniture, furniture with character and feel will through time have colours worn in to it. The whole point is to get a look and feel, realise the character of a piece. Skilled interior designers I have worked with who really know what they are doing will judge a finished piece by touch as well as look, for example a hard wax can give a velvety feel. It’s a multi-sensory thing. I have had a client who tapped a piece once and said it didn’t sound right, another lesson I have learnt along the way!
What do you enjoy most?
It’s the end product, getting a piece looking and feeling right and then seeing it installed in its intended place. The process is challenging, you have to find new ways all the time in order to achieve the look a client wants. It is important to talk to the client – it works best that way for me to fully understand what they want. Some of my clients have a very specific look they want from their pieces – and I can give them this as an exclusive, it is their signature and I respect that.
Have you ever had to tell a client you can’t get what they want?
No – I will always get there, its my job to do so. During the last eight years I have been working with interior designers – it has been interesting, I love incorporating old finishing techniques I have used on antique furniture with new ones I have learnt on modern pieces. It opens up new possibilities and makes my work more interesting and fulfilling.