Something Old, Something New: The Marriage Of Antiques And Contemporary Design

Something Old, Something New: The Marriage Of Antiques And Contemporary Design

Though separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years, from different cultures and continents, they were perfect for each other, as though fate had determined that they were meant to be together.

Is this the plot of a steamy time-travel novel? No — rather, it describes the eclectic result of mixing antiques with contemporary design elements. Though pieces may have come from different continents or earlier centuries, somehow they still seem to relate harmoniously. And you don't have to be a professional designer or spend years refining your taste and discernment in antiques. With a little know-how, you can easily blend antique and modern elements without risking a clash in style.

According to Jeannie Chapman of la Soffitta Antiques in Ashland, the most important step to combining pieces of divergent styles or different cultures is to find a "unifying element." Color works particularly well, since its universal appeal means it can tie together elements from a variety of cultures. For example, Chapman has a black lacquer screen from China that she groups with a gilt inlaid Italian table, a green shantung chair, and an old wooden clock. The tones of the screen tie together the table and the chair, and the wood from the table matches the wood of the clock. Though some pieces are Asian and some European, they work together harmoniously.

Another possible unifying element is the style of the piece. "Be brave," Chapman advises, and try things together — see if they have the same "feel." For example, Chapman is particularly drawn to mid-century pieces and finds that their streamlined geometry work well with Japanese wood-block prints. The overall effect, she says, is "serene, contemporary and simple."

The theme of your pieces, too, can work as a common factor to tie together disparate items, especially in artwork. Chapman notes that a wall grouping with the same subject matter will be harmonious, even if the styles are completely different. For example, you could have a series of portraits of women from other times, styles, and cultures, and the pictures themselves could be various sizes, color schemes, and artistic styles, but their unifying element, all women, would nevertheless tie them together.

Another designer who incorporates antiques into contemporary design is Ginger Lawrence of Ginger Lawrence Interiors in Grants Pass. For her, antiques have the potential to make a contemporary design "softer and more welcoming." They provide excellent value even when expensive, because the quality of craftsmanship is generally so much better; they also tend to be more interesting than mass-merchandise pieces.

Lawrence warns that the trick to merging antiques with a contemporary design is to have a light touch. She notes that while antiques can go perfectly well in all styles, it's possible to get a "heavy" look if you use too many antiques. But with "finesse and skill," you can have a look that is fresh without being trendy, that will still be in style 50 years from now.

When Lawrence is faced with a "heavy" antique that ominously threatens to dominate the feel of a room, she prefers to lighten the piece with up-to-date fabric. Conceding that "purists may balk" at that idea, she notes that the beauty of upholstering is that "you can always rip it out." She notes that antique sofas are particularly tricky to decorate with, because people are generally reluctant to change them, but they "look stunning with fresh, new fabric and stuffing."

Both Chapman and Lawrence emphasize that however you choose to incorporate antiques into your contemporary design, the most important thing is to use what you love and what makes you feel comfortable. Your home will reflect your personality and become an intriguing place of rest and comfort, and that will be a love story with a happy ending!

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