In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the on-trend home was often heavily themed, like Southwestern or country, and furniture that matched was the look of choice. Since that time, popular style has evolved to embrace an eclectic look, but many do-it-yourself home designers find this style tricky to pull off. How can you look collected and eclectic without looking cluttered and chaotic? And what exactly are you supposed to do with pieces you’ve inherited? How do you integrate these heirlooms into your current decor? Keep reading for some easy ways to combine old with new to get the chic look you’re after.
Consider Your Architecture
When the perfectly matched decor trends of the ‘80s and ‘90s fell out of favor, “Homeowners began to seek out ways to set their home apart,” says Cecily Reynolds, marketing and customer service director for Bremo Auctions in Charlottesville, which helps buyers find unique vintage furniture and accessories. A first step in adding such character to your decor is to consider the age and bones of your home—if it has some years behind it, include some furniture pieces or accessories from the time that it was built. An example might be a touch of mid-century modern for a 1960s rancher, or some 1930s-era antiques in a foursquare for an organic tie-in.
Layer in some pieces that create contrast; modern rugs, like bold stripes or geometric patterns, can work well with traditional furniture. Modern art coupled with more traditional furnishings is also surprising and fresh, says Reynolds.
In a newer build, consider bringing in older elements to create warmth and character, like reclaimed wood planking on a wall or ceiling, or a vintage light fixture, fireplace hearth or banister. A design scheme can be built around these initial contrasts of old and new.
Know What You Need When You Treasure Hunt
If you like to go on the hunt for pieces with potential, a tape measure is a must—in a big open space like a showroom, a piece can appear smaller than it will in your living room. Have an idea of what you are looking for, like chairs to flank your buffet, or an interesting piece for a bookshelf, so you don’t wind up with rooms that are overstuffed—a surefire way to look cluttered.
Don’t be afraid to paint something (chalk paint and milk paint are easy to use for novice painters) if you think a fresh coat will transform it. Keep in mind that painting diminishes the value of the piece drastically, so don’t reach for a paint brush before you know if the furniture is worth anything. If you inherit a piece, have an antiques dealer take a look first, says Reynolds.
If you find an upholstered piece with great lines but shoddy springs and worn, dated fabric, it can probably be fixed. Before you purchase, be sure the wood has not dry rotted and is in good, stable condition. “If you like the bones, it is definitely worth it to reupholster,” says Reynolds. “You have unlimited options for customizing when you choose your own fabrics, and a more contemporary pattern on a traditional piece is a nice contrast.”
Stick to Tried and True; Edit Accessories
If you have a mix of styles and eras in a room, a way to make it look intentional is to stick with a color scheme that always works, like soft neutrals or black and white. A vintage, tufted curvy-lined sofa or chair looks breezy and current redone in a light linen fabric, allowing the lines of the piece to stand out. Neutrals are never boring when you mix textures and have great contrasts in the room (such as curvy pieces with straight-lined modern ones, a vintage vase on a lacquered tray).
Collected doesn’t have to mean cluttered, and items you love shine better if they aren’t competing with too many elements in the room. If you want to highlight your vintage typewriter or a unique piece of pottery you inherited from family, give it a place of honor on a buffet or bookshelf.
A second look from an honest and style-savvy friend can be a second eye in a room, and can help you edit down to banish clutter. “It was Coco Chanel who said right before you walk out the door, remove one accessory,” laughs Reynolds. “Fashion is great for inspiring home decor, and the same principle applies in a room. Less is more.”
When You Can’t Bear To Paint a Piece
When you’ve inherited furniture from family and painting it is out of the question, you can make it look more current without altering it. That secretary desk your grandmother left to you? Think about how you could use it, advises Reynolds. Maybe the desk comes out of the living room to the top of the upstairs hallway to hold guest towels and toiletries. Remove an attached mirror and a dresser becomes a buffet; a collection of fine china plates that will go unused in a cabinet can be hung on a wall to enjoy every day. Reynolds, in a practice-what-you-preach example, turned an antique baby crib sideways and hung it on the wall as a display shelf.
When you have dark-stained vintage furniture, Reynolds suggests lightening up what’s around it to avoid a heavy, dated look. Light colored walls won’t compete (try Benjamin Moore’s Ivory White for a warm, creamy white), and a natural fiber rug like sisal makes a great, neutral backdrop. Break up groups—your inherited dark-wood table will look instantly fresh contrasted with contemporary chairs. In a bedroom, consider moving the nightstands or the dresser to another room to avoid an excessively match-y look.
And remember that a collected home is one that evolves to reflect your priorities, interests and experiences. “Just play and have fun with decorating,” says Reynolds. “Have confidence in what you like, try new things, and if you try and it doesn’t work, just do something different.”