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The Fixers: If it cracks, chips or shatters,
Brookes Restorations is on the case

Fixer
Wrapped in white paper, the pile of glass used to be an amber-tinted globe -- a shade, one of many, for a chandelier. It now lies in more than 40 pieces on the counter at Brookes Restorations. A few of the shards can be measured in inches; most are slivers.

Because the chandelier is an antique, replacement isn't an option, Geoff Brookes says, his British Midlands accent still evident despite three decades in Los Angeles. But can the globe be repaired?

Hopeless is a word rarely heard in this shop -- even when a groom wants the goblet he crushed under his heel at the wedding made whole again. Brookes' narrow storefront on Beverly Boulevard just west of La Brea Avenue is decorated with pictures of fractured Victorian crystal and pre-Columbian earthenware seamlessly renewed.

Geoff and his wife, Elena Horowitz-Brookes, specialize in restoring three-dimensional objects, she says, made of almost anything that cracks or chips, including wood, ivory, jade and porcelain.

Read more after the jump ...

Geoff, 56, emigrated from Stoke-on-Trent -- home of Wedgwood -- in the early 1980s to open his repair business. The couple met in Los Angeles in 1982, when he advertised for a china restorer.

Elena, 54, who has a graduate degree in art, got the job. Until recently, they operated from a larger location closer to La Cienega Boulevard, but as the economy weakened and the big restoration jobs from decorators and designers slowed, they decided to downsize. They maintain a second facility in Westlake Village, but glass and crystal is only handled here, in two small rooms behind the reception area.

Stemware may be dainty, but repair work isn't. The first room is lined with heavy belts, several inches wide, that loop from ceiling-high machines. A chip -- whether in a wine glass or a heavy Steuben vase -- can reliably be made to disappear, but the process involves grinding down the entire rim. Betto Moran, Brookes' crystal restorer and a second-generation employee, explains that these wet abrasive belts have different grits, like sandpaper. They also pick up water as they rotate. This cools the glass so that it doesn't crack under the heat generated by the friction of the belt.

Once the rim has been ground to the depth of the chip, Moran uses belts to give both the outside and the trickier-to-do inside edges a slight bevel or rounding. Next, fine scratches are removed with black volcanic pumice applied to a cork wheel that Geoff brought from England. A final polishing is done with a felt wheel and cerium oxide, whose pink-beige color suggests its common name: jeweler's rouge.

There is one restoration task that none of these industrial-strength belts and colorful compounds can accomplish, however: clearing the cloudy surface that sometimes develops with fine crystal. Geoff recommends hand-washing and immediate drying.

Geoff prefers to do what Elena terms "cosmetic repair," meaning no dinnerware or "things with utilitarian value." Glue is not designed to withstand heat, so it will quickly erode when used in coffee cups, teapots or plates subject to frequent dishwashing.

Because wine is served cool, Brookes will repair glassware that has a broken stem, smoothing out the pieces and rebonding them with specially formulated glass glue that sets clear under ultraviolet light.

Edgar Rodriguez, another longtime employee, works in the second room surrounded by a brilliant array of paints and resins. He pokes at the pieces of the damaged chandelier. He recently duplicated the webbed pattern in a broken German clock and created a new leg for a Murano glass horse, and he thinks the globe can be repaired. Fortunately, the round base that fits over a bulb is intact.

Amateurs approach the task like a jigsaw puzzle, looking for clusters of pieces that fit together.

For professionals, Geoff explains, that's the road to instability or worse. If the last piece belongs in the middle of the globe, it will be impossible to hold it in position while the glue dries.

The trick, whether reassembling glass, porcelain, china, pottery or earthenware, is to build upward from the bottom. That way, the final piece will be at the top and will have a firm base to rest on.

There are, of course, other difficulties.

A broken edge of even the finest china has a slightly gritty surface -- a tooth, Elena calls it -- that makes it possible to sense when a piece finds its proper place.

Glass is slick, even when it fractures, thus harder to position. Once glued, the cracks in opaque or milk glass can be made invisible by filling them with tinted resin. If, however, the piece is transparent, like the amber globe, complete disguise is impossible. It will always show traces of its repair.

In the chandelier's case, the final verdict awaits the owner. On one side: the estimated $320 repair fee. On the other: the cost of an entire new set of matching shades -- or a naked bulb.

The front of the shop is suddenly crowded with customers. One wants holes drilled into an antique basin so it can be used as a planter. Another, bearing a beloved but somewhat faded plaster-over-wood statue, says: "I'm not interested in perfection," pointing to the figure's delicately modeled nose and ear, damaged in a fall. Elena, whose painting and sculpting skills will be required, proposes an expandable menu of restorations, beginning at $350.

"People are hanging on to what they have," Geoff says. The Austrian Arts and Crafts vase sitting beside him on the counter is an illustration. Elena had to reconstruct the exuberant three-dimensional leaf clusters of the piece -- part of the couple's own collection.

-- Ariel Swartley

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


For more profiles on the experts of repair and the keepers of dying home trades, look for The Fixers archive at latimes.com/fixers.

 
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