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Robert Bumpus Biography Plum Studio Furnture restoration


My first shop was on the lower east side, very close to my apt. in N.Y.C. I met a young Iranian engineer in a bar on 3rd st. next to the hell’s angels.  He was buying old buildings & offered me a basement on Norfolk St. which I rented for 15 years. I had to shovel the snow off the sidewalk’s trap doors in the winter; parking was nightmarish & the surroundings quite rough.  However, it was a great space to learn furniture making. A real man-cave/ grotto.

My new 1,000 sq. ft. workshop was barrel vaulted, had a low brick ceiling, exposed steam pipes, ancient sink & antique wooden, leather clad surgeon’s ‘couch’ with stirrups that had to come from the local back street abortionist. I reckon it would be valuable today as a curiosity, but I immediately made it into a work bench.

In 1993-1997 I was hired to build reproduction furniture for a french restorer in the garment district. I began learning antique furniture restoration; very soon new pieces sold at the major auction houses, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Doyle, etc. This daily exposure to 18th & 19th c. furniture creates vital judgement skills during diagnosis.

The hand skills come with time. By way of example; a veneered secretary, period William & Mary.

The once thick walnut veneer on the top had been sanded to paper thickness. A sharp cabinet scraper is the only viable tool to level new patches.

New hide glue bonds with the old, allowing repositioning as needed.

Veneer patches are previewed with finish & judged for color and reflectivity, before being cut to irregular or well angled shapes,tapered for an almost invisible seam.

Complete removal of damaged marquetry & cross banded veneer is another example.

This is accomplished by gluing a linen cover to the old veneer, turning the worked on side up & covering the linen clad veneer with soaking wet cotton blankets over night.

The moisture penetrates to the old glue and softens it sufficiently to lift it up enough to use a steam kettle with a hose to completely remove the veneer ‘skin’.

A scraper is used to clean the old glue on the back of the veneer & the substrate.

A heated cover or caul of 3/4″ MDF is cooked on a stove top to char but not to burn & clamped strategically.

This reactivates the new glue film & results in a flat veneer pattern that can be corrected for any losses.

After careful refinishing, it’s not easy to identify the repair.

After a background in architectural design my woodworking career began in New York City where I worked as a cabinet maker and furniture maker. I then worked with a master French restorer who exposed me to the environment of fine antique furniture and the closely held traditional restoration craft. I am an experienced and versatile furniture restorer.

My specialties include structural and surface repairs, veneering, inlay, staining, shellac polishing and lacquer as applied to 18th, 19th, and 20th century European and American furniture. I also build reproduction pieces and enjoy commissions for new furniture and decorative arts objects, including boxes and turned work.

Plum Studio was founded in 1997 and is currently located in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle, close by Lake Union. I am a one man shop and offer absolute attention to detail and workmanship to the highest standard.

Inquiries from designers, antique dealers and furniture lovers are most welcome.

Estimates are free of charge.