Decorating with antiques comes from our innate need for a connection to the past, to believe in a story, and create a sense of history in the space we inhabit. So often, Saturday strolls lead to the local flea market or antiques store and then it happens—love at first sight strikes with a hidden treasure. Some are lucky enough to have antiques gifted from generations past, while others fancy themselves collectors, plundering through markets to find that perfect piece. Humans have a soft spot for things that have endured longer than themselves, and a well-crafted dresser or dining table will far outlive the fast-paced trends of today and tomorrow.
Antiques are generally categorized to be objects aged 100 years or more, while anything older than 20 years is considered vintage. However, decorating with antiques and vintage furnishings is one and the same—blending the old world with a sense of the new. Antiques are meant to enliven a space with context and history, not to create a museum with velvet ropes. As antiques dealer-turned-designer, Rose Tarlow dictates in her book The Private House, “The juxtaposition of contemporary pieces with antiques makes a room young and alive. We should not attempt to create museums, but rather should strive for comfortable living spaces of character and beauty.”
The only rules to finding the perfect antique for your space are to simply follow your gut and keep an open mind on how a piece can be used in a space. If you love it, you will always find a place for it.
Sometimes one good piece says it all. Sarah Blank masterfully placed a European tailor’s table from Authentic Provence as the centerpiece of this kitchen at the Kips Bay Show House in Palm Beach. Not only is it functional for cook prep, but it also serves as a place to entertain. Bold-hued cabinets keep the space feeling fresh, while the antique island grounds the kitchen with a more traditional approach
Antiques also have the power to keep a room from feeling too strict. For example, the ceramic tiger from Eleish van Breems, peaking conspicuously from beneath the coffee table, adds a bit of whimsy in this writer’s retreat by Kevin Isbell.
Antique furniture does not always need to be the centerpiece of the room but can instead add more subtle character in the form of accent tables, accessories, and rugs. Colette Van Den Thillart brings a sense of humor to her rooms with avant-garde finds like this monkey console table from Circa Who.
Reproductions and Inspired By
Reproductions tend to get a bad rap, but designers like Anthony Baratta often note how it’s important to focus on how the piece makes you feel rather then when it was made. “The history of furniture has been fueled by them,” says Baratta. “My feeling is if something is lovely, it’s lovely. Everyone is hung up on ‘period appropriate,’ but that’s really not how people live now.”
Good furniture design has achieved many iterations through the decades, and each remake contributes a new layer of history to a particular design. Baratta, as the first Designer in Residence of the Colonial Williamsburg home, was tasked with reinventing the space in such a way that honors its history but freshens it with a modern perspective. This meant embracing reproductions to achieve the desired effect.
Thomas O’Brien’s most recent collection with Century Furniture harkens back to furniture typically found in seaside homes spanning the 19th century to the midcentury period. Take this 1960s-inspired Dorset Chair, for example, that blends conventional wicker and wrought iron with a whole new approach to repurposed design. It’s a new piece, yet it instantly feels like something that’s been in a home for decades.
Repurposed into New
Peter Dunham is not afraid of any kind of architectural salvage, including 50 feet of walnut bookcases and paneling dismantled in England and reconstructed in this Newport Beach home. Dunham also repurposed a Georgian sideboard by cutting the legs off and using it as a desk.
Later in the same home, Dunham turned French leather wrestling mats into a large ottoman for the living room.
Charlotte Moss transformed a set of lacquered chinoiserie panels into closet doors for a guest room in her own home.
Layering older pieces with new design is certainly one of the more interesting ways to embrace antiquities in your home. A master of this method, Peter Dunham emphasizes the importance of introducing antiques in a new home. “You want a place to feel rooted,” he says. “I layer reclaimed things so you can’t tell what’s new and what’s old.”
Dunham’s design for this living room includes vintage chintz on the armchairs and an ottoman covered in a Flemish tapestry. A 19th-century circular mirror found on a shopping trip in Avignon, France, plays beautifully with Jennifer Bartlett’s modern artwork. A new seagrass rug keeps the room feeling ‘of today,’ but the subtle slub texture is a nod to the other more organic and antique elements in the room.
Marco Bay masterfully layered found objects and family antiques in his dreamy Portofino escape. A bit of luck befell Bay when he came across a set of Gianfranco Frattini chairs discarded by a local dance club for the dining table. Ladder-back seats inherited from his parents grace the entryway.
Bunny Williams artfully mixed old with new in this Palm Beach retreat. A contemporary resin table coexists with an 18th-century Italian console that frames a modern black and white photograph.
The Antique Home
Introducing the ‘antique-obsessed’ who can’t help but cover the whole house in aged glory from floor to ceiling. Take designer Micky Hurley’s reinvention of his 17th-century Paris flat. His wife, Malu, describes his love of antiquities: “Micky believes the warmth and depth that antiques can give a space is immeasurable—they make it feel lived-in and personal. They are pieces you want to pass on.” A French school 18th-century oil painting hangs above a tufted sofa found at Bonham’s auction house.
A keen eye for 18th- and 19th-century antiques, the owner of this Hudson Valley home understood how to recreate a storied pedigree. The house may be new construction, but you would never know it with the infusion of antiques and historical references. The house appears to have always been there. In the living room, a mahogany library table once belonging to the Marquess of Downshire intermingles with a more modern Murano glass chandelier. New elements have been chosen carefully to fit the period furniture like muted de Gournay wallpaper and Prelle curtains to add instant heritage to the space.
Collecting no longer makes a hoarder. Flaunt it if you’ve got it! Collections of pottery or textiles make wonderful displays, as exemplified in Philip Mitchell’s weekend Canadian cottage.
Mixing Styles and Periods
Combining antiques from different epochs or from different countries may initially feel bazaar, but there is elegance in the madness. Bunny Williams placed a French Regency console with an 18th-century English mirror to perfect effect in this Palm Beach grand entryway.
Homeowners Brooke and Steve Giannetti mixed both Swedish, French, and American antiques in their restored Litchfield County Connecticut Home.
Sara Clark is the Style Assistant at VERANDA, where she writes about interiors, fashion, style, and the latest design trends.