Decorating with Antiques
by Bob Brooke
Many people see antiques
only as objects to be collected. But unless a piece is delicate, rare,
or of exceptional value, antiques, both furniture and accessories, are
meant to be used.
One of the biggest changes in the antiques market is the switch from
antiques as items to collect to ones with which to decorate. It’s the
interior decorators who have spearheaded this move. In most cases its
they who scour antique shops for objects to use in decorating their
clients’ homes. But they often have to do some fast talking to convince
homeowners that old is good.
But don’t think objects have to be valuable antiques. Vintage furniture
and accessories from the 20th century, especially after 1921, while not
technically antiques, are just as interesting and even more affordable
and useful than pieces from the 19th century.
and accessories from the 1950s and 1960s—is all the rage right now.
While some pieces, especially by noted designers, can get pricey, most
are affordable for those on a budget. But to find them requires
searching used furniture and charity shops and even online in places
like Facebook’s Marketplace.
Part of the problem for many people is the proliferation of home
decorating and remodeling shows on both PBS and cable T.V. channels.
Most of these shows have a common theme—modernization. They show how to
rip out old fixtures and replace them with new ones, tearing out
historic elements to “update” a house.
The only reason to
“update” an old house is to make it livable for the current owner. New
paint, new fixtures where required, and repairs will do just fine over
Many condos and new homes
are already pretty bland. Heaven forbid that anyone would want to live
in a space with anything but white walls. While white will visually
expand the space of an apartment or condo, it doesn’t add any warmth.
And that’s where select pieces of old furniture come in. They add
interest because of their uniqueness and warmth from their wood tones.
If you live in an historic house, play up your home’s architecture with
some pieces from that time period. Research styles of bygone eras by
visiting historic houses. And while most historic houses have been
curated to a specific time, you aren’t limited to that restriction, so
you can use furniture and accessories in various styles and from
Rather than choosing a style to use throughout your house, consider
using different styles in different rooms making each room unique—one
room Art Deco, another Victorian cottage, and yet another turn of the
20th century. Or use one style in your public rooms and another in your
you want a more uniform look rather an eclectic one, use traditional
furniture design stripped to its bare essentials with few turnings and
For cozy warmth, look to rustic and natural furnishings made of
bark-covered logs or simple planks. Simple designs executed in natural
wood that emphasized craftsmanship, quality materials, and strong clean
The opposite extreme is the geometric lines of Art Deco, a
fashion-oriented style, influenced by primitive art and Cubism, with
more color, pattern, and grand ornamentation such as zigzags,
electricity bolts, and skyscrapers.
Art Moderne design, based on unifying art and technology with little
ornamentation, emphasizes the form-follows-function concept of the
Bauhaus. Materials such as metal tubing, glass and other technological,
Back in the 1960s, antiques broke away from their only-for-the-rich
place to one in which everyone can buy, collect, and enjoy them. Instead
of the decorator shows putting antiques in a place of prominence in
people’s minds, many of them categorize them as second rate—if you can’t
afford new furniture, buy used pieces and update it by repainting. This
approach ignores the concept of buying old and enjoying it for what it
same applies to antique accessories. Decorating with pieces of
Staffordshire pottery isn’t the same as collecting it. While a collector
may display his or her pieces artistically, a decorator only uses the
pieces to add warmth and charm. In fact, the homeowner may not know
anything about the dishes gracing the plate rack in her kitchen. They
just look pretty to her.
Above all, decorating with antiques doesn’t mean sticking to one period
or style. Today’s homes are eclectic—a favorite chair from grandmother,
a rug from a friend, and so on.
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