The thought of decorating with antiques can sometimes conjure up images of stuffy collectibles, traditional tastes and big budgets. But the reality is fortunately very different. In fact, it has never been more accessible to incorporate these unique pieces into your home. There are countless ways to find those one-off gems, from snooping around at a yard sale, to the hassle of searching and buying through an antiques dealer on Instagram, and everything in between.
Getting inspiration for incorporating antiques into a modern home is also plentiful, with many of the best interior designers choosing to mix old and new to create something really special with their designs. Here, some of the top expert tastemakers share why they include antiques in their projects and why it has become one of the biggest interior design trends.
How to Decorate with Antiques
1. Mix dark woods in bright spaces
Many pieces that have stood the test of time are made of wood and were either dark to begin with or have darkened over time. When the obsession with the blond tones in Scandinavian design took over, historic walnut tones fell completely out of favor.
But there’s a way to incorporate them into a modern home and not make them feel dark and heavy — and that’s to include them in the brightest areas of the house.
Here, Leanne Kilroy of much-loved Instagram account Good Bones has incorporated antiques into her conservatory, with the character of the table and bench providing a direct – and quite beautiful – contrast to the lightness of the space.
“I grew up in a house full of antiques – my father had an antique shop for 40 years – so they feel like home to me,” says Leanne. ‘Antiques have many stories to tell and are often made much better than today’s mass production. Antiques are my favorite way to give a space not only function and beauty, but also personality and soul.”
2. Match the colors of antiques with modern pieces
You don’t get a much more modern bedroom than a bedroom with diamond-shaped rattan cutouts in the built-in storage space. But what Natalie Tillison of design studio Folie Chambre has done here is match the color of the rattan panels and chest of drawers to the honeyed tones of the antique ceiling lamp, creating a scheme that feels layered, with its mix of eras, yet cohesive.
“Using antiques, vintage furniture and furnishings is fundamental to my interior design,” says Natalie. “They bring warmth, history and grounding to interiors. They give homes a soul, add interest and are often unique or rarer pieces. Vintage furniture also has a practical side. Pieces are built to last and have often survived a few houses before you. They have already taken their first knocks and dents, so they are perfect for a family or busy home where you can relax without feeling too precious.”
3. Combine design classics with local finds
Pernille Lind, the interior designer behind this beautiful living room, talks about how as a Dane, the idea of inheriting well-made pieces is just part of the culture. “For me, it’s not about ticking a box, it’s part of my heritage and I always encourage my clients to reuse furniture they have, or to dig up interesting personal items, be it family photos, are works of art or collectibles, which in a new ‘light’ in the house. Of course, not all the pieces they want to keep or that are special to them, so we look for antiques that can add character and intrigue to the interior, as they are often unique one-offs.’
This space perfectly captures the eclectic style – a well curated mix of found and cherished objects. ‘For this project, we sourced antiques locally in the nearby towns and cities,’ says Pernille. ‘In this photo there is an original paper Le Klint pendant and a 1950s brass floor lamp and an old barrel. The photo on the wall is one our customer found in a local store, depicting a coral reef, referring to the place of being on the beach.”
4. Use antiques in functional spaces
There are certain things that a modern bathroom must have in order for it to function. But around the sink and shower it’s actually the perfect place to put antiques in, creating an oasis that feels like it’s full of personality to soak in while soaking in the tub.
An interior designer who is an expert in this multidimensional layering of rooms is Beata Heuman. ‘If you allow yourself to be inspired by the past, something new is created by merging the various starting points’, she explains. ‘The soul is in the unique combination you put together.’
5. Hang antique art in a playroom
Every antique piece of furniture has something unique (regardless of price or value). They already have a history and a story that is all their own. And adding stories and wonder to a playroom is the ultimate goal of furnishing this space, so – perhaps counterintuitively – antiques and a nursery go hand in hand.
But while antiques feel a little more precious than modern pieces, it may be safer to stick with works of art, as interior designer Emma Ainscough has done here. “They bring a sense of history, character and storytelling, all of which are so valuable in creating that sense of ‘home,'” says Emma.
That said, she also added an antique wicker chair found at a vintage market. A piece that adds character and – crucial for this kind of space – is wipe clean.
6. Borrowing styling ideas from the past
In this modern family home, Côte De Folk designer Sophie Rowell has borrowed the idea of a Victorian drawing room for her dining room. An antique chandelier hangs above a Tulip dining table on a burlap rug – a traditional arrangement made modern by the choice of materials on the table and rug.
The antique corner cabinet provides the function of a Victorian sideboard. “The corner cabinet in this project is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever bought,” says Sophie. “Corner cabinets are the perfect storage solution as they don’t take up much wall space, I often add them to my projects.”
7. Add gravitas to soft colors
Laura Stephenson, an interior designer, shares why she likes it when customers also get excited about using antiques in their homes. “Antiques add a layer of age and patina that new pieces, including ‘faux’ antiques, just can’t,” she says. “Antique pieces make a home unique. Even a small antique chair or stool can personalize a space.”
By using a trendy sand yellow on the walls, this room gets much more depth thanks to the beautiful cabinet. ‘I find antiques everywhere, but this beautiful Gustavian cabinet comes from Sweden,’ says Laura. “It really grounds the whole room and adds gravitas and yet it’s so pretty and delicate too.”
The best places to buy antiques
On 1st Dibs you will find every piece of furniture or lighting from every era in history. A beautiful repository, the only problem is limiting your choices. Among the very expensive pieces are some more affordable finds, so the joy here is in the trawl.
Visit 1st Dibs (opens in new tab)
The focus here is usually more on mid-century modern, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to suit every style. For example, the vases range from chinoiserie to 80s organic shapes.
Visit Vinterior (opens in new tab)
Yes really. It’s not just clever craft projects here, but Etsy is also home to smaller antique dealers who have great eyes and the ability to source.
Visit Etsy (opens in new tab)