We’ve got some news: antiques are rising in popularity. Mid-century modern has been the trendy, vintage-inspired style on the block for a long time. But recently, traditional design has been re-entering the spotlight, as more people are looking for comfort in the familiar. And, along with a resurgence of traditional design has come a renewed interest in antique furniture!
So many people have antique furniture passed down to them and have no idea how to incorporate pieces into their homes. So they put them in the garage to collect dust. Or they place them in a random corner of the house, hoping nobody will notice how out of place it looks. But we say it’s time to embrace—and perhaps even seek out—antique furniture in your home! They add story and character to your home, plus give you something unique that you can’t just go out and buy from any old store!
Aside from being a unique piece of furniture, antiques also have a sustainability component that resonates with a lot of people. Since these pieces have already been produced and are still in use, they have a much smaller carbon footprint than brand-new furniture. And they also tend to be more affordable than a lot of new furniture. Of course, it depends on the piece, but in general, since antiques are less popular, prices are lower. And, considering the age of antique furniture, you can feel confident in the quality with which they were made. These are pieces you wont’ need to replace in a few years, which adds to antique furniture’s element of sustainability.
Want to learn more about antiques? Get the scoop on why antiques are making a comeback with Modsy’s podcast, The Render. Listen here.
For reference, antiques are generally defined as objects 100 years old, or older. Meanwhile, anything more than 20 years old is considered vintage. But decorating and designing your home with antique and vintage pieces alike are all about adding storied furniture and objects into your home, blending old-world design with the new and modern.
Ok, so maybe we’ve now convinced you of the glories of decorating with antiques. Yay! But now you’re probably wondering: How do I actually do it?? How do you bring old pieces into a modern home without things looking museum-like or wildly mis-matched? Trust us, just because you like antiques doesn’t mean you have to go full-throttle Emily Gilmore in your decor. There are so many ways to incorporate antique pieces into more modern or contemporary spaces. Our Modsy designers can help you figure out how to incorporate specific antique pieces into your home’s design. But you can also keep reading for examples of interior design with antique furniture in modern spaces, along with tips for decorating with antique furniture!
Layer Antiques With Contemporary Decor
One of the more interesting and eclectic ways to incorporate antiques into your home? Mixing them with contemporary decor. By layering multiple styles together, you create a mix that feels unique and where you almost lose track of what’s new and what’s not. It helps create a look of a home that’s collected over time, versus something cookie-cutter that came straight out of a catalogue.
In this room, the dresser is the piece of antique furniture—but both the bench and the bed maintain a contemporary traditional flair. Brand-new dressers can be quite an investment, so we love the idea of using an antique dresser—whether one that was handed down to you or that you bought second-hand—to save money without skimping on style. The gallery wall above the dresser, along with the bold stripes of the bench, helps add to that “collected” vibe. We used blue throughout, which is a good color to help balance out the red undertones of the wood finish. In contrast, we used the traditional-patterned rug to help tie in those undertones.
Many people are tempted to paint antique and vintage pieces. And while that can sometimes work, in a piece like this, where there’s so much beauty in the natural wood grain, we recommend leaving it. However, if you come across an antique that has good bones but is pretty beat up, you can always strip and sand the existing stain, then refinish it with a fresh coat of stain.
Let Your Antique Make a Statement
Sometimes you find a piece of antique furniture that’s such a show-stopper, you have to use it as the centerpiece of your space. There’s no blending it in—it needs to make a statement. That’s how we felt with this classic buffet table. The two-tone, high-gloss finish feels bold in a modern home, even more so when you consider its Victorian style, with ornate touches and carved details. It has a very regal vibe, and the height of the legs help this piece feel special and the space feel larger.
But even statement pieces have to go with the design of the rest of the room. In this case, we placed the buffet in the dining room, alongside a modern marble table and upholstered dining chairs. The sleek forms of both balance out the ornateness of the buffet.
But you could also go for asymmetrical styling, which we did here, which gives it more of an informal vibe and leans slightly into the eclectic. The leaning art and modern sculpture on the buffet supports this informal vibe.
A reddish wood tone like this piece—which shows up in a lot of antique furniture—can be hard to match with other wood furniture. So, we’d recommend not having a lot of other wood tones in a space where you’re featuring a piece like this buffet. But if you do incorporate other wood tones, keep them light. Otherwise, just mix in other natural materials for added depth. We love the mix of the red, high-gloss wood with a marble dining table; in both cases, the material of the tables themselves are the ornamentation, so you can keep things pretty simple in the rest of the room.
Use Antiques As Accent Pieces
Antiques don’t always have to be statement pieces. Sometimes incorporating antique furniture as a subtle accent is just the thing. Above, we’re using an antique trunk as a coffee table. And a coffee table with built-in storage, no less! The room, as a whole, is a mix of modern and traditional lines, so this trunk blends in quite naturally.
However, to make sure it still stands out a bit, we contrasted the dark finish of the trunk with a light sofa. We also chose pieces throughout the room that would help highlight the color tones of the wood—specifically, the rust red from the rug helps pull out the weathered warmth from the piece. We also incorporated natural textures throughout the room to complement the weathered wood finish.
Using an antique in a high-traffic area may seem a bit scary—what if someone spills a drink or doesn’t use a coaster? The great thing about antique trunks is that they’re made for rough handling. Before suitcases, trunks were how people packed and travelled—and as a result, they endured exposure to the elements and a lot of being tossed around on steamer ships and trains. So, don’t be too worried about scrapes and spills. In fact, pieces like these allow you to celebrate the age and patina!
Create Contrast With Old Meets New
It’s one thing to mix antiques with more traditional-style furniture. It’s another move entirely to mix antiques with ultra-modern lines. Wishbone chairs are quite a statement in and of themselves—but pairing them with a Victorian-style dining table creates a really interesting, unexpected juxtaposition.
We love how the curves of the table legs mirror the curves of the chairs. Like the dining room featured earlier in this post, these furniture pieces are great examples of forms and material as decor. This allows the rest of the room to be pretty minimal—though the natural textures found in the rug, cabinet, and seats of the chairs creates some nice depth in this space.
This dining room table is another example of antique pieces with red undertones—so you need to be mindful of what other wood tones are in the space. The light, natural finish of the chair and cabinet are a great example of what wood tones work with this type of antique finish. Another thing to consider is the finish of your flooring. If it clashes with your antique (or any other piece of furniture, for that matter) don’t worry. Just invest in a large rug to keep the dining room table visually separated from the finish of the floor.
Mix Real Antiques With Reproductions
When decorating with antiques in a modern home, you don’t have to stick with strictly modern pieces. In fact, there’s something very visually interesting about mixing real antiques with furniture that’s made to look like an antique, like in the entryway above. Here, the chair is the antique, but the console has that very old-world vibe.
While they’re not styles from the same era, they create an interesting juxtaposition side by side. This also works because of the chair’s ebony finish, which doesn’t compete with the finish of the console. In this space, it’s the additional decor that helps balance the old and the new. The natural textures of the tray, ceramics, and greenery—along with the dark wall color and modern mirror—pull these pieces into the 21st century. But we love the storied history of this chair, which creates a fun conversation starter the moment someone enters your home.
This style of chair—called a Hitchcock Chair—was first created in Connecticut in 1818 and is characterized by its stenciling. This style of chair is a product of technology from the early Industrial Revolution, where sawmills on the river, along with interchangeable parts, were used for quick and economical production. These chairs started the “fancy chair” trend in upwardly mobile middle class families of the 19th century and, at the time, were a symbol of this new economic tier. How’s that for a fun tidbit??
Repurpose Antiques Into Something New
Sometimes, the original intended purpose of an antique doesn’t make sense in your home. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw it out or shove it in the back of your garage. You can simply repurpose it!
In this dining nook, we repurposed an old church pew into a bench for eating at the dining room table. Replacing a chair or two with an old church pew adds a sense of charm and character to this set-up and helps the space feel much cozier. Painting it white helps it more cohesively blend in with the style of the rest of the room—but both its form and finish definitely complement the rustic modern vibe of this space!
A dining room bench isn’t’ the only way to repurpose an old church pew—there are so many ways to use them, from your entryway to your living room or porch! Depending on the style and condition of the church pew, it might be more of a style statement than a functional piece—and it’s never going to be your most comfortable seating option. But it still adds a storied history to your home, which we love.
Mix Antiques From Different Styles + Eras
When it comes to antique furniture, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one piece. In fact, there’s something quite charming and eclectic about mixing antiques from different styles and eras. That’s exactly what we did in this eclectic bedroom, where we mixed together an antique tufted chair and an antique dresser. They’re not the same style or from the same era—but they blend together quite nicely.
The color on the wall helps highlight the natural patina and character of both of these brown furniture pieces. The pouf, mirror, and wall art add to the collected, eclectic vibe of this space. We opted for a more traditional rug pattern to tie the room together but with more saturated colors to liven up the space. Overall, this room has a very rustic boho vibe, which is somewhat unexpected for a room with multiple antiques. But we really love how all the furniture and decor plays together for a relaxed, fun space.
If you have an antique or vintage chair or sofa with good bones but shabby upholstery, invest in reupholstering it! This will generally be the same price or cheaper than buying a new piece of furniture, and it allows you to customize it with the fabric of your choice! (How fun would it be to reupholster an antique chair in a vibrant, modern print??) Plus, it’s so much more sustainable to simply reupholster than throw out a piece of furniture that has good bones just to buy something new.
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