How fasting, tai chi and a rooftop garden help this art restorer reach peak concentration

Ariel Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

LOS ANGELES -- Forget elaborate coffee orders; when art restorer Henri Laborde needs to wake up in the morning, he'll take a bracing bodysurf in the churning, ice-cold waves of the Pacific Ocean.

"You get out of [the ocean] and you feel like someone took one of those pressure washers, and just kind of washed you inside. You feel cleansed, you feel energetic," he says.

He'll use that energy to sit, sometimes for hours, painstakingly repairing cracked ceramic and shattered porcelain.

Since he landed in Los Angeles in the '90s from his native France, Laborde has taken repair commissions from art museums, auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's and wealthy private clients. He has restored a diverse assortment of pieces, from one of Jeff Koons' balloon dogs to a dog made of painted and folded cardboard; from three Fabergé eggs worth $100,000 apiece to a towering 9-foot-tall Batman figure for Warner Studios.

On a recent summer Friday in his downtown studio, Fine Art Restoration, he worked on a more humble request: six small Santa Claus figurines, many missing portions of their mittens, from a paint-your-own-pottery studio. Each was marked with a handscrawled "Sharon 1970" on the bottom, and together they represented the only part of the client's mother's estate she received following a contentious dispute.

He mixed a special concoction of acrylic, plaster and paint to form a paste that will dry softer than the original ceramic. This allows him to sand and mold the missing pieces to the proper form, without damaging the figurines. Avoiding further harm is of the utmost importance when taking on a project — even when it's a beloved family tchotchke.


Laborde, 48, has made it his mission to restore ceramic and porcelain pieces of both monetary and sentimental value.

He says he treats each object with the same amount of care, regardless of the price point. But "I do get a bigger kick out of the interactions with [sentimental] people," he admits. "Oftentimes I get a hug too, which doesn't hurt."

When you spend many hours a day intensely focused on the smallest details of an object, the breaks are just as important as the work. Here's how Laborde powers through his workday with body surfing, tai chi and strategic fasting.

7 a.m.: Go for a surf, minus the board.


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