Ask Alice

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist
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A. Bronze is an alloy and, these days, may be made from copper combined with any other metal except zinc. If exposed to moisture, sulphides or chlorides, it will deteriorate rapidly, and so is almost always lacquered for protection. From the sound of it, in your case, the lacquer is probably absent. I hope your sets haven't developed "bronze disease" - a sudden outbreak of small corroded patches with rough green spots.

If this is the case, wash your cutlery in repeated changes of boiling, distilled water. If this fails, consult a museum expert about use of a solution known as sodium sesqui-carbonate. If bronze disease has not set in, try this general-purpose cleaner: dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a cup of white vinegar, add enough flour to form a paste and apply to the metal. Leave it for half an hour and rinse with clear, warm water. To shine afterwards, use copper polish, and make sure you keep it somewhere dry and never put it in the dishwasher. To avoid a repeat incident, why not approach someone who could re-lacquer it for you?

Q. We are searching for a modern sideboard for our dining room. Should we invest in a genuine retro teak piece from the 1970s, or look at something contemporary?
Beatrice Daniels, Hackney

A. Contemporary pieces are the antiques of the future and I feel that we should support our own generation of furniture-makers. I would go for today's look; it's bound to last longer than the latest retro fetish. A piece that's caught my eye is Wing, by Isokon, £1,535 for a two-door walnut sideboard, 66cm high, from Places and Spaces (, 020 7498 0998). Although its form is subtly retro, it has a clean, new look.

Also look at Travo, by Interlubke, whose designs give a choice of drawers and drop-down door flaps. Choose free-standing or wall-mounted, price £3,429 for a 2.8m combination on metal legs, from Geoffrey Drayton (, 020 7387 5840). It also stocks Flat, a long, slender piece, in dark-stained oak, or matt or gloss finish in a range of colours, with marble, glass or wood top, price £3,407 for a 2.7m example with marble top. For a beautiful, low-level piece, consider Sussex, with four drawers, for £1,460, in whitened oak, from SCP (, 020 7739 1869).

Q. I'd like a cork notice board for the kitchen that doesn't look as if it has been reclaimed from an office. Any ideas?
David Bichan, by e-mail

A. Buy a 2in-thick piece of foam rubber and cover it in velvet; you could even buy a nice frame from a junk shop and put the notice board into that. Or get some artificial grass (Evergreens UK, and back it onto cork, perhaps attaching artificial flowers, birds and butterflies for a kitsch touch. If you wanted a patchwork effect, there are lovely coloured corks; try Wincanders (