Restoration of a walnut What-Not


The What-not is essentially a set of shelves supported by corner posts or side columns and on castors to make it mobile.

It seems to have appeared towards the late 18th century and gained popularity during the Victorian era for displaying a variety of ornaments, objects, curiosities, books and papers.

They were usually constructed from mahogany, walnut and rosewood with some japanned examples.

The walnut item featured in this article is a combination of a What-not and a Canterbury lower section to hold paper or related documents such as music sheet


Restoration of a Victorian What-Not Canterbury


The item was presented to the restorers in good condition with the exception of top shelf. A candle had been left to burn out on the top, causing quite severe damage.

The candle burn was quite dramatic and extensive in it’s damage. The damage extended below the line of the veneeer.

A close up photograph of the damage.

Treatment proposal

It was discussed and then agreed with the client that due to the severity of the damage the best option was to cut away the charcoaled area and insert a new section into the shelf and then source a suitable walnut veneer to be inserted over the underlying repair. To then colour out and polish as required this area to blend in with the existing original patination.

This was a particularly challenging job as it took some time to source a suitable veneer close to the original figuring and to then blend in the different colour variations until the new section combined well with original patinated surface.

New walnut veneer was sourced that provided a good match to the existing figuring.

Walnut veneer was sourced that provided a good match to the existing figuring. You can see the repairs made to the substrate.

Planning the placement of the new veneers

The veneers were then carefully placed to line up as best pssible with the original walnut figuring.

This shows the top of the What-Not after the work was completed.

The finished work


The work was undertaken and completed by Accredited member, Scott Bowran.