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Mixing Old and New...Is it Possible? Part 2

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Disclaimer: My use of the word ‘old’ is referring to furniture that is either vintage (older than twenty years) or antique (older than 100 years) and not referring to the idea that it’s neither of those, but something you’ve grown tired of. I suppose, however, that the same questions could be asked if it is the latter. ;)

In Part 1 we asked all the questions to first determine if an old piece of furniture is worth keeping around or not. If you’re cohabitating with old furniture, but have a more modern aesthetic or a desire to keep an inherited piece in the family even though you know you don’t love it…go back and read Part 1 to gain clarity on whether that piece is worth the work it’s going to take to style it in a way that truly serves you and your family. Once you’ve read it, come back and dive in. Also in Part 1- quick tips for how to remedy common ailments found in and on old furniture: scratches, water stains and stink.

In Part 1 we broke vintage and antique furniture into two categories: pristine original pieces and pieces that have had a harder life and need to be re-worked via re-painting or re-staining. Today we’re only chatting about marrying pristine original pieces with a more modern aesthetic. Is it possible?

Pristine original furniture:

You know these pieces. These are the pieces that look like they’ve been polished weekly, moved gingerly and wore the crown of glory within a home or family for generations. They are lovely and most people can admire them for the quality and history they carry with them, whether it’s their style or not. But if it’s you living with these pieces and you’re trying to marry lovely old with sleek new without your home feeling and looking too traditional, try these tips keeping in mind this one thing:

Opposites Attract

It’s a theory that has been proven time and time again to be true and in the case of paring old and new, you’ll behoove yourself to keep this rule in the back of your mind and the forefront of your design plan.

1. Visual weight: an older pristine piece can carry visual weight. Paired with other pieces of similar stature, you’ll end up with a room full of ‘heavy’ pieces. If those visually heavy pieces live within walls that are darker and the lighting low, the room can come across feeling either library cozy or traditionally stifling. What is opposite of visually heavy? Visually light. Visual lightness comes in the form, or illusion of, petite rather than bulky.


* Streamlined furniture (furniture that has a more petite structure, legs and stuffing)


* Overstuffed furniture

* Dark furniture

2. Dark vs. light: generally speaking the more traditional pristine pieces of furniture tend to be darker toned. What is opposite of dark? Light.


* Light colored walls

* Light colored furniture

* Rugs with a light base

* Window treatments with a light base


* Leather, as it more commonly comes in darker colors

* Dark walls

* Window treatments and rugs with a dark base color

Want to really set the two styles apart? Try Lucite furniture or accent pieces.

3. Masculine vs. feminine: If you think of furniture in terms of gender, furniture that is heavier can be more easily classified as masculine. What’s opposite of masculine? Feminine.


* Feminine texture: velvet, faux fur, cable knit


* Ruffles, lace and doilies

4. Patterns: choosing traditional patterns will compliment the traditional piece of furniture, sure. But if your aesthetic is more modern, you want to contrast the traditional with patterns that are a bit more modern.


* Rugs with animal prints, boho charm or a bit of texture (think faux fur)


* Oriental rugs or rugs with deep bold colors (think reds, oranges, yellows)

5. Lighting: most light fixtures that are already installed in homes tend to present themselves as more traditional than modern. Changing these out, as well as bringing in table and floor lamps with a more modern aesthetic, will counter the heaviness of the traditional piece of furniture.


* Clear glass, barrel shades or crystal chandeliers with brass


* Tiffany lamps, iron bases, and scroll work

Marrying old and new is not only do-able, but can be so lovely. It can give appeal, charm and character to your home in a way that looks curated, nuanced and well thought out. Your home is a reflection of your story. Tell it well!



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