5 Reasons to Reframe Old Art


Look around your room. Is there some art on the walls? Nice! Is it more than 10 years since that frame was opened? Less nice. Think about your basement or attic- is there any framed artwork stored there? Even less nice.

Once something has been framed, the inclination is to leave it alone, pretty much forever. After all, it’s framed, it’s done: the only thing worse than re-doing a bad job is re-doing a good one. While it’s true that a good frame job will preserve and display artwork for a good, long time, nothing is permanent, and eventually it’s time to take your art down and bring it to see a custom framer for a checkup or a refresh. Here are some reasons you should consider reframing or refitting your old art and photographs.

(Reframing describes taking the art out of its old frame and choosing a new frame and or mat. Refitting involves taking art out of its old frame and putting it back in without changing out the mat, glass, or frame.)


Changing Styles

This is the most obvious reason to change the frames on decorative artwork. While framers often recommend “framing to the piece,” not to the room it’s destined for, most people consider their home’s aesthetic when picking out a framing package. That frame may have gone with your decor when it was chosen, but you’ve got new furniture and new paint now. If it’s a very old piece, the colors of mats and frames may have shifted or faded over time, and a combo that looked great now clashes. If it’s a piece you inherited or something that’s been through a move or two, maybe it was designed for an entirely different house in an entirely different style. And hey, maybe your personal tastes have just changed over time- something you loved in your twenties is going to look very different to a 40 year old.

The frames we chose in 1995 are not the frames we would choose for 2017. Even something as straightforward as metallics go through changing trends: In the 80’s we were into shiny silver chrome, in the 90’s we loved that brassy gold, and the last 10 years have been all about gunmetal and copper, and recently rose-gold. The point is, simply swapping out the mat and frame can totally revitalize a piece of art that feels tired or dated. It’s the same as reupholstering an antique chair or changing the tailoring on a vintage dress- little tweaks can bring it into this decade and give it years of new life.

*(As I was writing this post, an object lesson came in- an antique map, which has been in its frame for probably 50 years. Below, you can see three pictures: the first shows the dinged and dated frame, too thin for the piece, with no mat. In the third photo you can see the backing, mid-century cardboard, which is starting to break down and mildew. In the middle, you can see the back of the artwork, which is stained and brittle from being against the cardboard.

The map will be getting a gorgeous cream 100% cotton rag mat, a cream acid free backing, and a classic black and gold frame. A checkup and a reframe are going to save this cool 1930’s map for generations to come!)

Definitely time for a reframe!

Check-up on Art Condition

If you have a very old piece of original artwork or an old photo, you might want to refit just in order to give your art a checkup. This is an especially good idea for artwork that was already framed when you received or purchased it. It’s good to know just how the frame was put together, whether the mats and backing are acid free, and whether the glass is uv protective. We once saw a piece that a customer had inherited from a family member, and wanted to make sure it was well preserved. When we popped the backing off, it turned out the frame was good, the mat was fine, but it was mounted using duct tape and an old piece of 1960’s wood paneling- NOT the PPFA recommended method for hinging delicate artwork!

This is really a checkup for your art- when you go to the doctor for a checkup, it’s not because something is wrong, it’s to stop things going wrong in the future, and to touch base with a professional who knows what to look out for. Having a framer take a look behind the dustcover once every decade or so is a very good way to keep your art in good condition for years to come.

It’s a combination tune-up and spa day for your frame…

Clean Glass and Dust

If you’ve got some art that’s been sitting framed in a basement or attic covered in cobwebs, or lives in a humid bathroom, or salty and dusty shore-house, or even just a frame that hasn’t got a good dust-cover on the back, this might be the reason to get it re-framed or refitted. Dust, insects, dirt, humidity and oils can get behind the glass and make your artwork look grubby and gross. Out-gassing from incorrectly framed artwork can fog the insides of the glass. Let a framer take the glass off and clean it, brush off any residue, give the frame itself a good rubdown and then put the whole shebang back together with a new dust-cover- it will give a dirty old frame a new lease on life. It can even be economical: a cleaning and refit is cheap compared to the cost of buying new artwork- you can spend a fraction and take care of the artwork you already have.

This is especially important for a frame that has escaped some kind of catastrophe- flood, fire, etc. We had a customer bring in a sweet cross-stitch that had escaped a house fire but not the fire-hoses- it had some moisture stains and discoloration, but no actual structural damage to the frame. The customer’s aunt had made it and given it as a gift decades ago. The customer felt obliged to display it every time the aunt visited, but the rest of the year, she was so embarrassed and put off by the outdated frame and water stains that it lived in a closet. We chucked the old frame, had the cross-stitch laundered, and put it in a fresh new mat and frame- now it’s lovely and clean, and on the wall all year round.

Cleaned, lean, and ready to hang! No hideous, stained-and-dated before-photo necessary…


This may sound like an odd reason, but it’s a valid one: frames are heavy, and glass can shatter. Frames need to be treated carefully or they could be a hazard! I knew a family who hung a framed piece next to a heavy door. Every time one of their kids closed the door hard, the piece would drop off the wall, and the glass would shatter everywhere. This happened multiple times before we suggested reframing using plexi- no more problem!

Another time, we had a customer who wanted to re-use an antique frame. When we got it, it was so loosely joined and damaged that it easily shifted into a rhombus and could barely hold a screw without falling apart. That’s bad enough as-is, but then the customer cheerfully mentioned that he intended to hang it over the baby’s crib. There were looks of horror all around, while we imagined this heavy frame disintegrating and the glass plummeting towards an unsuspecting child! Sometimes it’s time to reframe for safety’s sake: let the framer pick you a brand new frame that’s structurally sound!

New Framing Technology

One of the best reasons to replace a frame, mat, and glass is the advent of new framing technology. Sure, Grandma’s wedding photo was framed with state-of-the-art framing tech in 1945, but we’ve got acid free mats, conservation glass, new frames, and better backings now. This is hugely important for things of sentimental value. You’ll want to reframe to avoid mat burn, UV-bleaching, and out-gassing that comes from the breakdown of old framing materials.  If your treasured family snapshots are fading to that vintage Instagram-filter greenish orange, it’s time to reframe. If it has been more than 20 years since your item was framed, chances are we may have something new to show you! When your photos have lasted another 100 years, you can thank us…

If your Grandma’s cherished color photos look like this, REPLACE THE GLASS, please!

Reframing the Conversation

I hope we’ve given you some food for thought! As professional custom framers we always want what’s best for you and your artwork. A good frame provides both decoration and preservation, and we always want to make sure your frames are lookin’ good and working well. As always, feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

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