News & Politics

2005 Guide to Home Repair: Frames

An artist and sculptor, William B. Adair is as interested in the frame around a piece of art as in the art.

Golden Touch: William B. Adair, Gold Leaf Studios

Adair studied fine art at the University of Maryland, then worked as a Smithsonian frame conservator for ten years. In 1982, he opened Gold Leaf Studios in Northwest DC to conserve and repair gilded objects, including sculpture, furniture, architectural ornaments, and frames.

Adair tries to conserve pieces to their original state. He'll even re-create the specks that flies would have made by landing on objects many years ago. His projects include the gilded ceiling at the State Department and the ornamentation at the Atlas Theater on H Street.

Because many people have learned about antiques through television programs like Antiques Roadshow, they know the difference between conservation, which he does, and restoration. Restoration re-creates the entire surface of a piece, taking away from its antique value, while conservation just works on the areas of damage.

"Someone will bring in a piece and find out that if they hadn't had it restored, it'd be worth ten times as much," says Adair, 55.

One of the most memorable objects Adair worked on was a looking glass used by George Washington. "It had been in Washington's collection all his life," Adair says. "I sat there late one night and realized that that mirror had seen the faces of many famous people. It was kind of an Alice in Wonderland moment. I thought, 'If that mirror could talk.' "

Homeowner advice: To keep gilded frames clean, Adair suggests dusting with a camel-hair or soft makeup brush–feather dusters can damage gilded objects–and placing a vacuum near (but not touching) the piece to pick up any dust. When cleaning a gilded mirror, spray non-ammonia cleaner on a cloth before applying it to the mirror; the cleaning solution can run down and destroy the frame.