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Reviving a Masterpiece

Tolland resident Michael Cardin and Prestige Woodworking owner Brian Werhle have brought a 200-year-old cabinet back to life.

Michael Cardin and Brian Werhle know a good antique when they see one. And the recently renovated, 200-year-old cabinet that the pair salvaged from Belmont, Massachusetts is one of a kind.

"It's something that was built 200 years ago by an absolute craftsman," said Prestige Woodworking owner Brian Werhle. "They definitely knew what they were doing."

Werhle has put over 200 hours into the restoration of the cabinet, which came from the library of 19th-century businessman John Perkins Cushing. The 10-feet, 3-inches high cabinet, which weighs approximately 300 pounds, was salvaged from the library of the "Bellmont" estate, which was damaged by a fire and later demolished in the 1920s. According to the Belmont Historical Society, the mansion was so extravagant that the entire town was named after it in 1859.

Cardin, owner of Capitol Salvage in Tolland, acquired the cabinet and will market it as it's restored. He said that the antique is clearly very special.

"There's nothing comparable to it on the market," he said.

While only one unit is currently restored, Cardin and Werhle actually recovered a total of five cabinets from the Bellmont estate. 

Cardin said that the furniture was stored inadequately for a number of years, before being donated to the North Bennet Street School, which teaches woodworking. 

When Cardin and Werhle found them, the antiques weren't in good shape.

"It was essentially a big pile of woodwork and projects," Cardin said. "The condition they were in you could probably sell them, but I felt from the marketing side of it that the chances of finding a buyer is going to increase greatly with the restoration process."

For Werhle, the work was arduous, but worthwhile. 

"It's like putting together a 200-year-old puzzle. There are five units and each one of them is a challenge in itself," he said.

Werhle has had to replace several missing pieces, a task made more difficult by the concave curve of the antique. He then had to replace the cabinet's veneer, due to moisture damage.

The cabinet has redwood interiors, and the cabinet faces are mahogany, with a quarter sawn white oak veneer. Cardin believes that the wood was likely imported from East Asia in the 1830s.

Cardin hopes that Werhle will have two units restored in time for the Brimfield Antique Show, where he will not only emphasize the beauty of the cabinets, but also their history. He said he will provide a write up of their background to the buyer.

And with the hard work that Werhle and Cardin have put in, the antiques also have long futures ahead of them; Cardin estimates that the renovations will help the cabinets stick around for at least another hundred years.

And while the work has been long, Werhle said that bringing back the work of master craftsmen is a worthwhile passion that always inspires him.

"Yes, it's a business, but I stay late to do things like this. This is a drive and a passion for me. It's been an amazing journey."

Check out the photo gallery above to see the antique brought back to life.

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