Westgate restorer’s labour of love

The arrival of her first child led to the birth of a new business for decorative restorer Elizabeth Robson.

She has been involved in restoration for 15 years, but since her son James was born three years ago she has been working for herself, having transformed the garage of her home at Westergate into a well-equipped workshop.

She has already built up a list of regular private clients and antique dealers for whom she undertakes a wide range of commissions, large and small, but her second child, Amelia, will be two in March and Elizabeth now hopes to expand her business in 2011.

Born in Fontwell and educated at Chichester High School for Girls, she qualified with a BSc in restoration and conservation at London Guildhall University.

Along the way her career has included an internship at Buckingham Palace and two apprenticeships in the workshops of master craftsmen who were members of the British Antique Furniture Restorers Association. She also spent two years working with Spencer Swaffer, the major international antique dealer in Arundel while studying for a Masters of Arts degree at Southampton Institute.

Over the years Elizabeth has carried out work for interior designers, embassies, ecclesiastical organisations, international financial institutions as well as antique dealers.

All this experience has been invaluable, giving her tremendous inspiration in the art of breathing new life into beautiful antiques in need of some loving care. She carries out all restoration sympathetically, using traditional materials and methods.

“Buckingham Palace was an incredibly interesting workplace,” she says.

“It gave me a huge insight into the royal collection. I was very young at the time and it was so exciting to not just see, but be able to handle some of those wonderful pieces – really fascinating.

“When James arrived I decided it was time to set up my own business and work for myself as a decorative restorer doing gilding, French polishing, painting and other various techniques.

“As well as restoring traditional antique pieces; I give people’s well-loved furniture a new lease of life by painting and distressing pine furniture or bleaching and liming dark oak to give it a lighter, more contemporary look.

“It’s such a luxury to be able to work at home. My workshop is attached to the house and it’s never been a problem fitting everything around the children – I work in the evenings or during the day when they are having a nap.”

Although French polishing is the ‘bread and butter’ of her business, Elizabeth gets the greatest satisfaction from the creative side, especially working on painted surfaces.

“I’ve always loved art, so decorating a piece of furniture is one of the things I enjoy most.

“And there’s also huge personal satisfaction in my work, especially when someone has an heirloom they want to have restored. One example was an old blanket chest I worked on – the client wanted to have it painted and I was able to completely transform it.

“Another example was a set of rosewood Victorian dining chairs which had been in someone’s loft for many years and which my clients had bought at auction. Again, they were transformed, giving them a new life for many years to come.

“With the turndown in the economy, a lot of people are looking to have pieces of furniture resurrected rather than buying something new. And, of course, many of those old pieces are much better quality than what you buy today.”

Elizabeth also loves folk art and has just produced a series of delightful and imaginative bird prints – she hopes to do more paintings in future alongside her restoration work.

To see some of Elizabeth’s work visit her web page at www.elizabethrobson.com