question about furniture stored in cold


Active member
Hello, I have furnished a home over the years completely with period reproduction furniture all built by myself. I have over 40 something pieces including tables, tall clocks, Goddard townsend pieces, federal pieces, windsor furniture, etc etc.  For the most part with a few exceptions it is all finished in shellac. 

Due to a recent family tragedy (death of my wife)  I am forced to relocate temporarily so that I can better care for my two young children. (closer to family) What is means for the house and the furniture is that I may be winterizing the house and draining the heating and water system.  I will not be in the area of the house and am afraid of damage due to frozen water pipes. 

My question is this.  Will it be OK to leave the furniture all stored in a house that will experience sub freezing temperatures.  Will the finishes be subject to damage.  I would hate to come back in the spring and see damage to my lifetime of work.  I have even had people tell me paint could be damaged on the house woodwork but in my experience I have never seen this happen on unheated and winterized houses.  Is there any concern about damage to the furniture?

My experience with storing furniture is that problems associated with differences in humidity/moisture tend to be more of an issue that temperature by itself, but we do not see the temperature changes here in the Mid Atlantic that you may be facing. On the other hand, the type of furniture you are talking about thrived in your area for a long time when houses were essentially not heated.

Anything in the environment that is going to cause changes in the moisture content of the wood might be problematic, and that means changes in humidity of the air in the storage location.

Scott - Karl is dead-on with respect to the joinery in your furniture;  it's unlikely that temperature changes would radically affect the joints.

However, if you're talking about extremes (and I'd guess that New Hampshire would be quite extreme in the dead of winter), you may well do damage to film finishes and/or veneered surfaces because of the differential shrinkage of the different materials that are bonded together.

Moreover, remember that it's relative humidity that causes wood to take up or lose moisture and shrink/swell, not absolute humidity.  The relative humidity changes with temperature;  a un-refreshed air mass (like in a closed house) will eventually get cold enough to reach saturation (100% R.H.).

This is a personal choice, but if you're talking about a lifetime of work, I'd spend the few dollars it would take to leave the heat on but set low for the winter.  40 - 50 degrees F would be plenty, I would think.
I have stored many case pieces in our garage and cargo trailer over the winter.  Never had any damage (cracked boards, loose joinery, damaged finishes).

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
Moisture is more of a concern rather than temperature differences. Cold can add a concern when extreme changes are experienced over a short period of time. Hide glue does not like extreme humidity and temperature changes much less the wood surrounding the joint!!!