Founder and Master Craftsman of Niki Francis Restorations
John Swahn is the owner and master craftsman at Niki Francis Restorations (NFR), an Antique Restorations company. Located in Bryn Mawr, PA, NFR is a certified member of the Restoration Centers Hotline referral network and has been contracted by over 5,000 clients in the Philadelphia area since it opened in 1993. In addition to residential clients, NFR currently works for many insurance, van line and shipping companies.
Since those early years, Swahn has devoted the majority of his life to learning as much as possible about the art of restoration. He has studied the construction methods and materials used by different cabinetmakers during various periods of history. He has studied the chemistry, techniques and methods used in wood finishing, cabinetry, porcelain and china restorations, seat weaving, on-site touch-up and furniture repair, painting restorations, gilding and textiles.
Swahn finished college and left the restoration work to pursue a career in the corporate world but some time later realized he would never enjoy the security of long-term employment by a firm that his father knew and he elected to return to his first vocation in historic restorations. “That was in the early 90’s and I was astonished to find a profound lack of quality and skilled craftsmen in the field. The general consensus was that people just wouldn’t pay for kind of period restoration that true antiques require to retain their authenticity. Those working in the field at that time believed customers just wanted it fast and cheap” Swahn told EP.
He remained true to his faith however believing that there was a market for proper restoration of quality antiques. He was right of course and soon opened Niki Francis Restorations offering high end workmanship at a premium. We wrote over $5000 our first week,” Swahn said.
Swahn has continued to work with other master craftsman honing his talent in the restoration arts.
He has developed new methods in conjunction with his studies of the old techniques. He has learned about organic chemistry and fine-tuned his woodcarving, finishing, touch up, and upholstering expertise. Since opening his business Swahn continues to devote time each week to teaching his staff and helping them master their skills. “I firmly believe that you can never know enough and the more you know, the more you work, the better you get at what you do,” Swahn Even now when disposable income for antique restoration is greatly reduced in the current economy, Swahn remains busy with work from insurance and moving companies for repair of damaged pieces.
He is a member of the Claims Prevention and Procedures Council, British Furniture Restorers Association, and listed on AntiqueRestorers.com and one of the founders and former head of the International Restorers Guild, UK. His list of clients includes Room and Board, Mitchell Gold Bob Williams, Crate and Barrel, National Business Furniture and most North Carolina based furniture companies as well as national and international manufactures of fine furnishings.
He is also consulted regularly by nine of the largest US insurance companies in the US on a variety of issues and also serves as a consultant and master craftsman for Sotheby’s Restorations Studios (Billingshurst, West Sussex, UK), The Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK) and the Smithsonian Institute (Washington, DC, USA). Although you would probably never know that he was involved in restoring a particular piece, his restorations are on displayed in many museums in Philadelphia (e.g. the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and throughout the world (e.g. the Statens Historiska Museum, i.e. Museum of National Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden).
Swahn and his business continue to adapt to a changing world, but he still believes in the values and essence of the craft he loves.
“I have found the happy medium between artist and businessman and feels an obligation to teach his trade and pass on his expertise to the next generation who will inherit these treasures of history,” Swahn said.
In an attempt to record his knowledge and expertise, Mr. Swahn is preparing to release a new book, “The Truth About Antiques “which may also serve to defunk the myths about the Antique Industry and educate collectors and would be collectors. The main focus of the book is how to identify a real antique based on construction methods and techniques. The book further delves into the commonly used wood and tools from various periods in history with the hope of providing more information on the antique itself. The soon to be released book is a must read for historians and collectors alike.
The book will also address “the fact” that restoring antiques always increases their value. This is based on a test marketing he did. Swahn took a handful of pieces to various auctions… first as is, later restored. The result; restored pieces sold from 300-3000% more than as is pieces.