Day in the life of a Kentish furniture conservator
PUBLISHED: 11:00 10 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:00 10 June 2019
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Yannick Chastang on parental influence, a youthful calling and his passion for conservation
Name: Yannick Chastang
Job title: Director of Yannick Chastang Ltd, Faversham
Tell us about you
I was born in Meaux and brought up in a village near Paris. I wanted to be a cabinetmaker from an early age; however, my parents imposed a condition. There was only one school that offered baccalaureate standard education combined with cabinetmaking instruction, so they applied for a place for me at the Ecole Boulle in Paris. Places were determined by an entry test and in my year there were more than 1500 applications; 500 were invited to sit the entry exam, with just 50 places available. Luckily, I passed and, at the age of 15, became one of the Ecole Boulle's privileged students and was one of the last intakes to be trained by master craftsmen. After six years I graduated in cabinetmaking and moved into the marquetry workshop. My work experience was in Paris restoration workshops and my national service was as a junior conservator at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
What happened next?
At the end of my contract in 1997 I got a job at the Wallace Collection in London, where I met my wife, a native of Sittingbourne, and moved to Kent. In 2003 I opened my own furniture conservation studio closer to home and now have more time to spend with my wife and teenage children.
Who influenced you?
My parents often commissioned the local cabinetmaker to make furniture for us and I used to be taken to the furniture maker's workshop quite regularly. Seeing his work greatly inspired my desire to work with wood. My mother was also a big influence. As a young woman she was one of Christian Dior's 'petites mains' who made the one-off designs for the catwalk. Her dressmaking and sewing skills were amazing and I spent hours watching her work.
You need a good eye for detail, a love for history, art and science, a steady pair of hands and endless patience. A conservator's duty is to preserve the original while ensuring the safety and future survival of an object.
Your key projects?
Most of my clients are stately homes, museums and private collectors. I conserved pieces of furniture from Leeds Castle as part of the refurbishment project and recently finished an important Boulle marquetry clock from Knole. A highlight was rediscovering a rare French early 18th-century verre eglomisé mirror decorated with gilt bronzes at Leeds Castle during the conservation of furniture for the yellow drawing room.
A typical working day?
I spend a lot of my time travelling, whether to review the condition of a collection, advise about a purchase, provide expertise, quote for a conservation project or dismantle or reinstall a piece.
When I'm in the workshop I start my day by reviewing the projects my three members of staff are engaged on and discussing the next stage of their work. Part of each day is devoted to emails and advising clients on the progress of their work.
I'm also the person who checks the machinery, orders supplies, does the accounting and responds to any emergency. I have a project on my own bench at all times so there's always a chance to get hands-on.
How do you relax?
I enjoy fly-fishing for trout on the river Stour in Canterbury. My tennis-mad wife persuaded me to take lessons and I am finding it surprisingly addictive. Both my children play tennis to a high level; it's a novel (but probably healthy) experience to be the worst in the family at something!
Marks out of 10?
12 out 10. There's not a lot of money in it but I get great satisfaction from knowing that, because of me, our heritage will survive my own time to provide pleasure to future generations. On top of that I get to meet and learn from many interesting people who are passionate about what they do.