Farnsworth House Wardrobe Damaged by Flood Waters Restored at The Center

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois

The Farnsworth House located in Plano, Illinois experienced a devastating flood in 2008. The Conservation Center was contacted and our team was sent to safely remove the wardrobe during restoration of the house. It remained secure in our fine art storage facility until conservation treatment was approved.

The Farnsworth House interior prior to flood

The Farnsworth House interior prior to flood

The wardrobe cabinet, designed by Mies van der Rohe, was commissioned for the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois and sustained severe water damage to the lower part of the cabinet and doors while the house was partially submerged by flood waters. The water damage left a dramatic tide line, approximately 12 inches above the cabinet base. This is a visual hard edge created by the damaging effects of the water below the highest point the flood water reached.

The wardrobe before it was removed from the Farnsworth House

The wardrobe before it was removed from the Farnsworth House

The Conservation Center's team transporting the wardrobe from the Farnsworth House to The Center. The wardrobe suffered severe water damage due to the flood.

The Conservation Center's team transporting the wardrobe from the Farnsworth House to The Center. The wardrobe suffered severe water damage due to the flood.

Due to the reflective qualities of the wood, any treatment that would involve significant use of pigments was deemed to deliver an unsatisfactory result. The reason being, that pigments refract light differently than the natural wood causing the pigmented areas to stand out when viewed at certain angles. Therefore, a chemical treatment was the preferred option. The application of certain chemicals can alter the color of the wood, ultimately acting like an applied color. The limitation of this sort of treatment is dependent on the species of wood and the severity of the damage.

The wardrobe upon arrival to The Conservation Center

The wardrobe upon arrival to The Conservation Center

In the case of the Farnsworth House wardrobe, the teak veneer proved to be somewhat sympathetic to chemical treatments, and greatly reduced the evidence of the water damage. As the teak veneer was extremly thin, almost paper thin in some areas, several applications of chemical treatments were required to bring back the wood to its original color almost to the point of having the tideline completely vanish. From there,  a small amount of yellow tint was added to the teak oil finish and applied to the area below the tide line. Only this very transparent application of color was necessary to complete the treatment.

After treatment

After treatment


Article written by: Steve Ryan, Senior Conservator of Furniture and Michael Young, Associate Conservator of Furniture

Photographs Courtesy of Whitney French, Farnsworth House

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