Welcome to the visual companion to the second episode of The Render. The Render is a podcast hosted by Modsy’s very own Alessandra Wood and Maddy Warner, and is all about the untold stories from the world of interior design.
In the second episode, Maddy and Alessandra dive into the surprisingly-interesting topic of antiques. Alessandra predicts that antiques are making a comeback and will soon be on-trend. Learn more about the history of antiques, famous interior designers who popularized them, and some insider tips and tricks on how to shop and decorate with antique furniture.Listen Now
For the past year, numerous top tier editorial outlets have suggested that antiques are making a comeback. Browsing through the pages of Architectural Digest and Veranda, and your never-ending Instagram scroll, you might have noticed a similar trend with designers.
And if you’re like Alessandra and love looking through dead people’s things, you might be familiar with the idea that there is something really special about antiques. These are things that have endured into the present carry an aura and a story. They conjure images of their past lives and owners and incite our imaginations.
But what even is an antique? What’s the difference between an antique, an heirloom, and something that is vintage? Where do antiques come from and how can you design with them today? We’re going to answer all those questions and more in this episode!
What is an antique?
The general definition of an antique is loosely something that is 100+ years old. They are objects that have been around for a while and have survived into the present.
And while you might think of antiques as a style of furniture or decor, we actually see a lot of styles encompassed by this definition of an “antique.” In other words, antiques are not defined by a style, so you’ll find pieces that are Victorian, Neoclassical, and even Art Deco, which is now hitting that 100-year mark.
But beyond its age, antiques are also things that are special from the past. “Special” might mean because it still survives—they don’t have to have been owned by famous historical figures, but can instead be possessions of regular people. Anything that has survived all these years and carries an aura, history, and that story with it can fall under this definition of an antique.
What’s the difference between an antique and vintage?
While antiques are usually around 100 years old (if it’s 95 years old, it still counts), vintage is typically something that has been around for 20 years or more. One of the key differences is that vintage pieces are usually things that you bought new and still own—you are the first generation of owners. In contrast, antiques are more about the second and third, even fourth, generation of owners. Think about your mom’s jeans from the 80s versus your great-grandmother’s side table.
What is “Brown Furniture?”
What comes to mind when you picture an “antique?” For many of us, it’s probably a large piece of furniture made of dark wood with ornate carvings. If so, you’re actually imagining “brown furniture,” which is a type of antique furniture.
We see a lot of darker stained woods in the world of antiques, usually, mahogany and walnut, which is where the term “brown furniture” comes from. While this seems like a layman’s term, it really is an industry term that refers to antique furniture made of these darker woods.
We also see lighter woods, namely made of pine, in Folk furniture. Pennsylvania Dutch furniture is an area where you’ll find a lot of lighter, painted furniture pieces. Same with 18th- and 19th-century Italian and French furniture.
Who is Thomas Chippendale?
Thomas Chippendale, in the world of antiques, was an English furniture maker who is famous because he was the first cabinet maker who created and distributed a pattern book called, The Gentleman Cabinet Maker’s Director (1854).
Essentially, he created a book of templates that helped popularize his designs and spread them across the globe. His furniture becomes synonymous with this 18th-century era and you’ll hear people refer to pieces of furniture as being Chippendale pieces.
History of Antiques
The first time in history when we see cultures and communities really interested in antiques, is in the 18th century when Pompeii was unearthed.
In case you skipped class the day your history teacher covered this one, Pompeii was a city that was buried by volcanic ash during the classical era. Mount Vesuvius, right outside the city we know as Naples today, erupted and covered the city of Pompeii in ash.
When Pompeii was unearthed in 1748, they found an entire city essentially preserved, frozen in time, and all of these really beautifully preserved pieces of furniture, art, design (even food!) came out of Pompeii. And this really inspired a Classical revival and people started to collect antique objects—essentially Pompeii created a “collector bug.”
Age of Antiquity
Even ancient Romans wanted to emulate the architecture and culture of ancient Greece.
Constantine, the first Christian Holy Roman Emperor, moved the capital to Constantinople (Istanbul) and brought many antique sculptures with him.
Even America’s Founding Fathers enlisted this same “visual vocabulary” to align this new democracy with the values of ancient Greece and Rome. Look at buildings like museums, banks, libraries, and the White House and you’ll see a very similar architectural style to structures like the Pantheon and Parthenon.
Interior Designers and Antiques
When do we start to see interior designers decorating with antiques?
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Elsie De Wolfe
A pioneering woman, Elsie De Wolfe is commonly thought of as the first female designer. She practiced in the early 20th century when interior design was a very new profession. She is quite famous for re-popularizing French antiques in her designs.
Elsie’s designs for the Colony Club
In 1900 Elsie De Wolfe designed the Colony Club, which was her first official commission. This was a club for elite women of New York. She designed it with a number of French antiques and really embraced a light-hearted, French styling that was in such opposition to what was popular at the time (dark and heavy Victoiran interiors).
The House in Good Taste
In 1913, Elsie wrote “The House in Good Taste,” which was a widely distributed book that introduced her approach to interior design at a more mass level. A real tips and tricks, dos and don’ts kind of book, this gave people a way to learn about interior design that they hadn’t had access to before.
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Our queen of glam who designed the Greenbrier Hotel, Dorothy Draper was another designer who used antiques in her designs.
She was starkly in contrast to the Mid-Century design of the mid-20th century. She introduces French and European styles into her designs, but in a way that was more contemporary and theatrical.
Decorating is Fun: How to Be Your Own Decorator
In 1949, Dorothy also wrote a book called “Decorating is Fun: How to Be Your Own Decorator” where she introduced her eclectic style to her readership.
Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings
But not everyone was into antiques. A more modernist designer, Robsjohn-Gibbings (which is quite a name) was a British furniture designer who actively detested antiques and their use in interior design. In his book “Goodbye Mr. Chippendale” (1944) he advocated for the death of antiques and calls out “women designers” who are “setting us back” by introducing antiques into their designs.
Are Antiques Coming Back Into Style?
Alessandra and Maddy think that antiques are ripe to become the next big trend. Why? Among a host of reasons is their appeal to millennials, their sustainability, their affordability, and the cyclical nature of trends.
Antiques and Sustainability
In contrast to the “fast-furniture” marketplace, antiques are incredibly sustainable. The materials used to make these pieces, which are now antiques, are pretty raw and free of many of the chemicals found in today’s furniture. And they aren’t packaged and shipped across the country, but can be picked up at your local flea market.
Antiques are Affordable
Another major reason antiques are coming back into fashion is their affordability. Most of these pieces are incredibly well-made, meaning you can get solid wood dressers and beautiful-constructed sofas at a fraction of the cost of a new piece.
Antiques and Millennials
Despite the adage that Millennials are killing antiques, we actually think Millennials will become major players in the antique market.
Millennials want to be different and showcase their unique personalities and style. And what better way to curate a one-of-a-kind interior than with pieces that are the antithesis of mass-production.
The Mid-Century Modern trend has now become so saturated, almost “cookie-cutter,” that people are looking for new styles and design aesthetics to express their personal style. And like we said at the beginning, who doesn’t love a piece with a story and an aura.
Designers Who are Using Antiques Today
This is not your grandmother’s house. There are several interior designers today who are using antiques in their designs. Many of them have an amazingly effortless way of using antiques in a manner that makes them feel incredibly fresh and modern.
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Lauren Buxbaum Gordon
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Antiques in Popular Culture
There are many places where we see antiques used on the sets of some of our favorite movies and TV shows.
Set in Connecticut, Gilmore Girls is a show that displays a number of approaches to designing with antiques.
Emily Gilmore’s Home
The full-throttle queen of antiques, Emily Gilmore has a very traditional approach to decorating with antiques and uses them to showcase her elite status in society.
Lorelai Gilmore’s Home
In contrast to her mother, Lorelai Gilmore still uses antique furniture in her space but styles them in a much more eclectic way.
The Friends Apartment
In Monica and Rachel’s apartment, we see the use of antiques mixed in an eclectic way but mixed in with modern pieces.
Another set that was decked in antiques, these people were going down in good taste.
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“I’m a millennial and I love antiques!” If that sounds like you then you might be what we call a “grandmillennial.” This is a style that looks back to “old lady things” like needlepoint and florals and styles them in a way that feels current.
Maddy’s favorite antiques, learn more about Staffordshire dogs here.
Tips for Incorporating Antiques into Your Home
If you’re ready to incorporate antiques into your home, you might be wondering where to start.
Where can I buy antiques?
Some of Alessandra’s favorite places to shop for antiques are flea markets and local antique shops, but your options will vary depending on where you live (there are more antique shops in Connecticut than California).
There are also plenty of places to shop antiques online. Places like Etsy, 1st Dibs, Charish, EBTH (Everything But The House), and even Ebay let you shop antiques from the comfort of your own home.
How to Incorporate Antiques into Modern Spaces?
Antiques are not always easy to use in modern or contemporary spaces. Here are a few of Alessandra and Maddy’s tips for making them work.
See how we’ve incorporated antique furniture into modern spaces here!
Start Small: Skip the mahogany armoire and go for smaller-scale antique furniture pieces. Things like accent tables, sewing tables, and even art are great ways to dip your toe into the antique world.
Pull in Natural Textures: Balance out the dark heavy woods with natural textures. Things like jute, rattan, linen, marble, and even lighter woods will help balance out the darkness. Think about lighter materials and colors that will help to lighten up your space.
Use Color: Saturated colors like blues, burgundies, and even reds can help temper out the darkness of those woods and help balance out your space.
Need help incorporating an antique piece into your space? With Modsy we can create a custom 3D model of your exact piece of furniture. Then our expert designers can show you how it will look with new furniture and decor in your exact room. It’s practically magic.