They just don’t make ’em like they used to. These days, the “’em” pretty much refers to everything. As Philip Davi can attest, it’s especially true of furniture.
“If you’re talking about something made in the 1800s,” Davi says, “you’re talking about decent furniture.”
The Stuart resident takes antique furniture in need of repairs and—properly—makes them like new.
“When you’re working on pieces from the 1700s and 1800s there are certain protocols that have to be done to maintain the value of the piece,” he says.
A master craftsman, Davi excels at skill combinations integral to antique restoration but rarely found in the same person. As a woodworker and refinisher, he also creates original pieces.
“A good portion of my business is making custom furniture for showrooms and businesses,” he says.
For 30 years, Davi has produced excellent results and enjoyed a strong word-of-mouth reputation that’s insulated him from any need to advertise. Yet, he discovered the profession almost by accident. While living in New York and working for the airline Pan Am, he made a friend who did custom woodworking. The trade intrigued him. He waded in, but was soon transferred to San Francisco.
When Pan Am faltered financially, Davi took a buyout and got a job with a restoration shop staffed by woodworkers from Europe. At nearly 30, he was a late arrival to the craft. But the on-the-job education his colleagues offered accelerated his professional growth.
“It was like working in Europe,” he says. “That’s where I learned traditional antique restoration. There’s a difference between restoring and refinishing.”
Making it look pretty isn’t enough. Preserving the essence of the antique is everything, and that hinges on using materials that date as far back as the original as possible.
Family ties brought Davi to the Palm Beaches, home of his first shop. In 1989, he moved to downtown Stuart. His clientele mostly lives on Sailfish Point, Sewall’s Point, parts of Palm City, Jupiter and Palm Beach, he says.
“There was a time that antiques were very popular in the ’90s and early 2000s,” he says. “Antiques have largely fallen out of favor. You’ve got a younger generation that’s not as interested in antiques. We’ve been out of the antique loop for a while, but I really do think they’ll come back.”
While the disposal nature of material goods may explain the downward trend, Davi is confident that the quality and endurance of antiques will consistently command a following.
He recalls receiving a matching cabinet and cupboard from the late 1600s featuring a carving of St. Francis of Assisi holding a bird whose beak had been chipped off. Equipped with antique English Brown Oak, an admiring Davi let the piece rest as he contemplated the intent, artistry and talent of the original carver and this heritage they shared as fellow craftsmen, despite a separation of hundreds of years.
“I didn’t touch the piece for two days,” Davi says. “Then I came in and had the job done in 15 minutes. It was like my hand was guided through the job. I hoped that (the original carver) would be proud of what I did.”