Greg Aubert says that from his earliest memories of childhood to now, he has always been surrounded with craft, building, carpentry and doing creative things. His parents moved from Coogee in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs to the Hunter Valley when he was just seven years old and started an Arts and Crafts shop where he spent many hours of his spare time. His father, a carpenter and builder also greatly influenced his appreciation for working with wood. Greg has spent many years restoring beautiful furniture into even more beautiful pieces. He chats with us today about his passion for restoring furniture, his love of antiques and gives us some hints about restoring and upcycling things for ourselves.
When did you first become interested in restoring furniture and what attracted you to this line of work, what is it you love about it?
By the time I was 19 years old my older brother Laurie had established Flossoms Antiques in Neutral Bay in Sydney which became one of the largest and well known antique shops in Australia. Flossoms specialized in high quality restored Australian and European antique furniture. Not long after I left school I moved back to Sydney and started working part time in the large Flossoms restoration workshop to see if I liked it. Instantly I loved restoring furniture and my passion for antiques grew quickly. I was apprenticed with Flossoms and attended technical college for three years studying traditional cabinetry and receiving fantastic on-the-job training from the crew of highly skilled restorers at Flossoms. Within four years I had completed my apprenticeship and took over the position of head restorer at Flossoms. I worked at Flossoms for a total or ten years before deciding to venture into my furniture business in 1997, Aubert Furniture.
You offer a range of services, from restoring antiques, to repair and upholstery. Can you tell us a little bit about the services you offer?
Aubert Furniture specializes in restoring, repairing and upholstering antique furniture. Our services include antique furniture restoration and conservation, detailed repair work, French polishing and traditional upholstery. We also supply fabric, traditional furniture hardware and anything else related to restoring antique furniture.
What is one of the most interesting items you have ever come across in your work?
There has certainly been many interesting pieces over the 28 years that I have been restoring antique furniture, but I did recently really enjoy restoring a German Biedermeier sofa circa 1830. It required total restoration to restore it, but it was the interesting funky curved lines of the piece that made it so interesting. Especially seeing it was made in 1830.
I am sure there are many, but is there a particular project recently you are most proud of?
A couple of years ago I restored a piece of furniture that was of significant Australian historical value. It was an Australian red cedar Colonial breakfront bookcase which was originally made by the famous cabinetmaker Andrew Lenehan in the 1850s for Australia’s first Arch Bishop John Bede Polding. After my conservation-restoration work on this piece it was retired to a museum by the Makinson family who had held the piece since its days with John Bede Polding.
People are very interested in upcycling and reclaiming old pieces themselves which is a focus of Recycled Interiors – do you have any tips for people when they are out treasure hunting in terms of what to look for in second hand and antiques?
Upcycling furniture is a fantastic way to become uniquely creative in your home and I certainly have a few tips on this topic. There is a massive amount of high quality furniture out there that can be transformed, restored and recovered to blend into your home, even if you have a very contemporary room theme. And most times it costs much less than buying new furniture.
Here are some tips on what to look for and where to buy it …
ebay: ebay is a buyer’s market at the moment and it’s flooded with high quality antiques and second hand furniture that is going for next to nothing. Buy as is, or consider even minor restoration to get it back to good condition and save money. Send the item link to a restorer or upholsterer to get a quote prior to purchase.
Recover: Nothing transforms a couch, sofa or dining chair like freshly recovering it. If you have a contemporary style choose a contemporary fabric which will transform any old piece into your own modern style. Choose natural materials like linens and cottons which are better for the environment and are very strong. Plain linens are the most popular and cushion covers can be washed unlike synthetic fabrics.
Painted Finish: Doing an acrylic hand-painted finish can be fantastic for transforming some old furniture to look new again. There is a right and wrong way however … antiques and old furniture should never be stripped then painted as this can cause major irreversible damage. The standard procedure is shellac based primer over the existing finish to seal and preserve the original finish, followed by 2 or three coats of hand applied acrylic paint. For a professional finish seal in a water based hand applied polyurethane varnish which is designed for this purpose.
Do you ever think something is past restoring?
Everything is able to be restored to some degree. Even if it’s not the whole-hog furniture can always be repaired to be made functional again even if it not perfect in other areas.
Do you work alone, or with other people?
I do the majority of the antique restoration work myself but I also have other two other furniture artisans that work with me, a French polisher and an upholsterer . There are also other people that assist me from time to time including specialist wood carvers, wood turners, art conservators, cane weavers and antique movers.
How do you see antiques and second hand furniture fitting into contemporary interiors?
Antiques for modern – Some of the best room themes I have seen recently in client’s homes have incorporated a mix of antique and contemporary furniture. If you prefer modern style room themes consider incorporating antique furniture. Art Deco is the father of modern and goes perfectly with modern room themes. English Georgian, Australian Edwardian and even glamorous Victorian styles can also be incorporated with modern room themes. Magazines like Vogue Living, Architectural Digest and Belle can be great place for inspiration on how to incorporate antiques into modern living.