Have you ever wondered how to decorate with those antiques you’ve inherited? Those precious pieces beloved by a grandmother or aunt that have been in the family for decades and now belong to you? It’s a question I received last month from a reader and one many people have struggled with.
Today Courtney from
“Mixing antique and modern furniture styles helps create an individualized and multilayered room that reflects the owner’s unique taste and personality. However, many people adhere to one specific style when decorating their homes. This approach is great if you are truly passionate about a particular era or genre of design, however, for the majority of homeowners they tend to be at a loss when they happen to inherit a family heirloom. How do you incorporate it into your home’s personality and style? Case in point, Kate received this email from a reader seeking help:
"My mom has a vintage buffet that I convinced her to hang onto. I want to use it in my home, but how do you incorporate vintage pieces with your regular decor, without making it feel like grandma’s house?"
Great question! Exactly how do you incorporate vintage and antique furniture into your home without having it feel too dated ? Don’t fret because it’s as easy as following one of these six simple rules.
1) Determine Your Design Focus A room filled with nothing but antiques can quickly make your home feel dated and more like a museum. Unless you are purposefully going for a "boho" look, then you need to decide the primary style of your space – modern, traditional, contemporary – whatever it may be. Making the decision on what style will dominate the room will allow you to make conscious choices on what types of antiques will work with your aesthetic. You can then begin to layer in vintage and antique pieces that suit your particular design focus and also add character.
The two rooms above are perfect examples of how to choose a design focus yet still incorporate antiques and vintage pieces seamless into a room without overpowering the space. The antiques are combined with more modern pieces to achieve a balanced “collected over time” look.
2) Put Antiques To Work Most of us have visited a house where there was a room designated "Do Not Enter" or worse, the furniture was slipcovered in plastic. Antiques were originally made with a purpose, so put them to work. Have a beautiful antique dining table set? Break it up. Pair the table with modern, industrial, or upholstered chairs then use the matching chairs in another part of your house, say as part of a reading room vignette. By using these family heirlooms as functional pieces throughout your home, you breathe new life into them and into the rooms where they reside.
3) There is Harmony in Discord. Filling a room with antiques or vintage pieces simply because they are so is a road map straight to "Granny’s House". The impact of the pieces will be lost, so I suggest that you look for "harmonic discordance". It’s a term borrowed from music, but by definition it’s when a composer purposefully uses off notes to emphasize a particular section of music. Using your inherited antique pieces to create visual dissonance is a fantastic way to break up the monotony that may arise from using one style in a room but also serves to highlight the fantastic qualities of the antique piece itself.
Judith MIller Design
These images exemplify the visual tension that can be created by pairing dissimilar pieces. Left alone, the pieces are fine but when combined with modern accessories, they make for real visual interest within the rooms.
4) Create a Space For It This is a trick that merchandise stylists have used for years and has been appropriated by interior designers to work difficult furniture pieces into a room. Quite simply, create a "backdrop" for the antique or vintage piece you are trying to fit into the room. Paint large squares of color on a blank wall and use them to frame the piece, or anchor a corner of a room with a large period inspired painting or mirror and float the piece of furniture in front. Consider as part of your plan an unexpected place for your antique. Doing so allows the vintage piece to become a purposeful focal point and less of an afterthought.
5) Tell A Story. Sometimes a connection between your antique pieces and the rest of your decor is not obvious. That is when you use accessories (pictures, lamps, mirrors and art) to create a subtle relationship with the rest of the room. Setting a pair of modern crystal lamps on top of a burled wood credenza or using a vintage console to house your family photo collection are great ways to create unifying themes to the rest of the room.
In addition to accessories, look to the innate aspects of the antique or vintage piece such as wood tone, leg shape, or finishes to echo other design elements in the room.
Pull together more modern accessories to surround your antique piece and you’ll achieve a personalized and stylish space that reflects your taste.
6) Let It Go So you’ve made serious efforts but you simply don’t have the space for Great Aunt Sally’s piano or your Mother’s hope chest. Trying to shoe horn the piece in your home is a sure way to end up disliking it down the road. If a piece doesn’t fit, consider giving it away to a sibling or family member, donating it to a museum, or parting with it by selling to an antique shop.
When I am dealing with clients who are having a hard time parting with a piece, I ask what is it about the piece that they love. Most times it is the memories associated with the piece, not the actual item itself. Remember, those memories are something you will own forever whether the piece is in your house or not. Whenever possible, I like to take an artistic picture of the piece as a keepsake for the client and have them create a scrapbook page that includes other relevant artifacts so they can retain some tangible aspect of the piece.
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You are not your Grandmother, so stop worrying about decorating like her! Know that by choosing to mix antiques into your decor, you are creating a definite sense of place, history, and warmth in your home. Decorating with antiques and vintage pieces of one of the easiest ways to imbue your home with a sense of self and character. By remembering to edit your vintage pieces and juxtapose your antiques to the modern elements within your home, you will create a look that few will dare to compare to your Grandmother!
Thanks so much Courtney for your valuable insight! You can visit more with Courtney over at his blog Courtney Out Loud.
What about you? Have you inherited a piece from a family member that you have struggled to decorate around? How have you incorporated vintage wood pieces into your own home?