The Modern Way To Embrace Heritage Style
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The Modern Way To Embrace Heritage Style

Jan 19, 2024

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Mix and match vintage and contemporary pieces for a fresh take on nostalgic style.

Vintage pieces and period features can tell a story in even the most contemporary homes. We've summed up our top tips and spoken to industry experts about how to successfully mix old and new.

Whether bought at a flea market or passed down through generations, historical artwork can bring a sense of character into any space. From bucolic landscapes that help to inspire feelings of calm to figurative portraits that seem to stand proud on the wall, pictures are an important part of a room’s visual identity. For a contemporary look, focus on one or two key pieces in a room and give them space to breathe. Looking for a statement? Keep an eye out for oversized pieces or those housed in a vintage gold frame to create a satisfying contrast in a more modern room.

From the experts: 'If you don’t want to commit to spending hundreds of pounds on a painting, then smaller ink and charcoal drawings or lithographic prints can be an excellent and inexpensive alternative,' says Aimi Jacques, founder of Curatorio, an online destination for preloved artwork.

Having an original fireplace is the dream – it makes a room feel cosy (even when it's not lit) and shows a home's history. Marble designs have a timeless quality that transcends decorative styles, while wooden surrounds can act as a base from which to build upon for the rest of room.

Turn your fireplace into the focal point of your space by making the most of your mantelpiece, which is the perfect surface for creative styling. If you’re not lucky enough to own an original, look at Chesneys.

If a particular item of furniture is looking a little dated but you either can’t bear to part with it or don’t want to spend the money to replace it, consider upcycling instead. Turning a piece you already have into something much better can be simple. Wooden furniture, for example, is easy to make over with specialist paint. The range of chalk paint at Annie Sloan is very highly regarded for this purpose, and it can generally be used without any sanding or priming beforehand.

Older properties tend to have more quirks in their layouts than new-builds, so if you have a spare alcove or inexplicable corner, don’t overlook its capabilities. Embrace the odd proportions and make use of the extra space – create a breakfast pantry, for example, or turn a surplus box room into a dedicated spot for reading and relaxing. Decorate these spaces with lots of colour to up their appeal and make them feel modern.

Buying antique furniture isn’t an exact science but that’s what makes it fun. Think of your space in a layered way and you’ll have no problem adding to (and changing up) your collection over time.

From the experts: 'In a world that feels increasingly uniform, it’s rewarding to have a one-of-a-kind home. Buying vintage pieces can add depth and character to your space through their craftsmanship and story, therefore provenance and quality are really important. As the items have already stood the test of time, you have more assurance they will continue to remain in good condition and, if anything, get better over the years,' says Sandrine Zhang Ferron, co-founder and CEO of Vinterior, an online marketplace for vintage interiors.

Period houses often have architectural details, so it’s important to use them to your advantage and create a feature. Paint woodwork in a contrasting shade to the wall, for example, or strip your space back to its bones (think original floorboards and exposed brick) for a contemporary look that is still firmly rooted in the past. Keeping the main parts of your colour scheme light will ensure your space feels fresh. If you’re in a new property but crave some period charm, consider adding cornicing or ceiling roses. Take a look at the range at Homebase.

Sanitaryware is usually something that's good to buy new – whether that’s because it’s more economical or simply makes functional sense. A bathtub or a vanity basin unit, for example, both need to be practical. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be beautiful, though. Try the rolltop tubs at Victoria & Albert Baths, and the washstands at Lusso Stone for pieces that look smart and traditional but are designed by the experts of today. Add a vintage feel to bathrooms by pairing soft textures beside hardware.

Traditional prints can sometimes feel stuffy – chintzy florals, say, or grand damasks can look dated when not used properly in a room. Don’t shy away from motifs though, as they have the power to give a space character. The key is to not let them dominate and keep the rest of the space relatively calm. Choose a design in a colour sympathetic to the rest of the decoration and go for a genuinely timeless pattern.

From the experts: 'You don’t have to live in a period property to enjoy the timeless appeal of heritage prints. In modern spaces, I would suggest choosing wallpaper first and then taking the lead from its colours to thread into the rest of the room,' says Kate French, creative director of Dado, a wallpaper brand.

Preloved accessories and other small antique items are relatively simple to find and can hold their own as decorative objects. After all, sometimes it’s the little things that really do matter. Instead of buying a new vase, browse a charity or secondhand shop for something that has its own history, or buy a handmade piece that will become a future heirloom. Look on Etsy for pieces with lots of individuality.

If you have older furniture that’s past its best or you fall in love with a piece that looks somewhat forlorn, don’t immediately replace it or pass it by. Most pieces can be restored by experts or with a little at-home TLC, while sofas and armchairs can be re-covered.

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Vintage pieces and period features can tell a story in even the most contemporary homes. We've summed up our top tips and spoken to industry experts about how to successfully mix old and new.Follow House Beautiful on TikTok and Instagram.