The Idealist

Get The Look: Antiques + Ultra-Modern

For those confident enough to ignore rules and conventions, mixing and matching furniture pieces from different historical eras can be lots of fun.

There is an art to combining looks but it’s a good one to master – because everyone has an heirloom piece or two that they just can’t part with. Fortunately, Grandmother’s Victorian sideboard can co-exist happily with your own mid-century modern sensibility, alongside a few ultra-modern pieces your partner feels strongly about. It’s all a question of layering texture and colour, editing and juxtaposing.

Your goal is to ensure that each piece has its perfect place in a coherent whole.

Here are a few ideas:

In very broad terms, antique implies luxury and a sense of the ornate while modern values are more often associated with minimalism. The simplest way to mix the two is just to put them together in a single working unit. So, for a dining room think of a very modern table with vintage chairs. Or an antique find of a sideboard floating just past an ultra-modern dining set. See how this very contemporary oak and grey dining set from Habitat could hold its own next to a much more complexly textured antique-style mirrored sideboard from Artisanti? £490.00 /£1050

Antique Dishes

Or imagine the sophistication of antique dishes on a modern table. The contrast couldn’t be greater between this sleek black and copper dining table and a set of multi-hued Wedgewood dishes that recall Edwardian times. £715 / £170 Yet somehow the elements speak to each other. If you have your own ornate (gilt-edged?) heirloom china passed down through generations, all the better.

Sitting Area

Another way to create a framework in which to mix the antique and the modern is to layer colour… or do away with it altogether. The California design studio Shabby Chic created a strategy for blending disparate styles by limiting rooms’ colour palette to tones of white, cream and very light pastels. You can adopt the same method for blending antiques and more modern pieces.

So a monochromatic palette in a study or office could combine an antique style bleached wood writing desk, this one from Loaf £775, with a chair that boasts a more modern aesthetic like this metal and linen number, also from Loaf. £320


Accessorise in either direction. For example, this carved frame mirror reads vintage, while this metal mirror from Maisons du Monde references more space age values. £75 / £287.50

Add a Layer

Rugs are also great for reinforcing a mix and match theme. You can stick with the monochromatic option but add another layer of texture with something like this cream tin ceiling inspired Morris and Co rug. £480 Or if you simply can’t resist adding a punch of colour, consider a modern bold graphic rug or the muted tones of an antique Persian carpet. This traditional style Pazyrk in 100% wool is a great substitute for the real thing. £625

For the Bedroom

In a bedroom you could set a Regency style bench at the foot of a clean lined contemporary bed frame to signal a multi-era design scheme. This French Rococo bench from Swoon Editions comes traditionally upholstered in several muted fabrics. £299 The bed, from John Lewis, is also upholstered in linen but in a very contemporary way. £1050

Antique Twist

There’s another way to slyly time travel through design eras: with a unique work of mashup art. This Sèvres Dicranocephalus Wallichii AP giclée print by Magnus Gjoen takes the Victorian convention of displaying insects, and adds an early 18th century reference to fine porcelain for a very contemporary twist. £435

Whether you are a collector of museum quality antique furniture pieces, or just the recipient of some much loved hand me downs, don’t let anyone tell you they won’t sit well with a modern design aesthetic. Place each element carefully and you can enjoy it all, no matter its lineage.

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All photos courtesy of respective brands.

  • Joan is an interior design project planner and freelance writer from Boston Massachusetts who lives with her husband and two bulldog terriers outside Wellfleet on Cape Cod.

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