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9 Tips for Decorating with Antiques: How to Keep it Classic

I love using antiques and vintage items when curating home décor, but it’s also easy to veer into “time capsule territory.” Using a mix of vintage items and modern pieces can help create the right balance that feels deliberate and on-point. Decorating with antiques is a great way to add personality to the overall look of your home.

If you’re wondering how to use antiques in your home, here are 9 helpful pointers to get that special, bespoke look.

Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack

Why Decorate with Antiques?

There are many great advantages to using antique pieces in your home. Not only are older pieces often beautiful, but decorating with vintage items is also one of the best ways to avoid toxins in your home. With furniture, you'll forgo some of the hazards of off-gassing and questionable materials. Many vintage pieces were made with natural materials like hardwood and leather, plus they’ve had plenty of time to off-gas.

Now, of course, there were some questionable antique furniture and accessory-making processes—for example, the many variations of plastics and synthetics used throughout the mid-century or the inclusion of lead, mercury, and other chemicals in older glass and pottery. Certain types of dye and colorings included synthetics and chemicals.

Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack

But for the most part, vintage pieces, particularly those that were hand-crafted and made from natural materials, are a great choice for your home. Vintage accessories have a lot of history and add visual interest to your space.

9 Tips for Using Vintage Items in Your Decor

If you’re ready to add some charm to your home but aren’t sure where to start, consider the following tips for decorating with antique furnishings. Plus, you may catch a peek at a few of the antique pieces that will be making an appearance in our new home...

1. Don’t Limit Yourself to Antique Furniture Only

When we hear the term "antique," many of us think of large furniture pieces, but to cultivate the right balanced look, include smaller items as well. To get the popular "timeless" feel many of us aim for, include furniture and décor from different time periods.

If you have one great large furniture piece like a vintage dining table or hardwood cabinet, you can make that your focal point and mix in one or two smaller accessories or accent pieces from that period that complement the look. The most critical guideline is to avoid going overboard or creating a room made up entirely of antique furniture and pieces. You shouldn't feel like you walked onto the set of a historic movie. Look for old pieces with clean lines or a simple color palette.

2. Mix in Modern Lighting

One of my very favorite ways to get a timeless look is to mix modern lighting with older pieces. A modern light fixture instantly elevates the space and adds dimension. Always remember to layer lighting as well, rather than sticking to overhead fixtures alone.

Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack

In general, lighting is one of your best moves for giving a room personality and setting up the right feeling and mood. Opt for unique fixtures that feel cohesive and welcoming. The right lighting adds new life to any living space and can help you highlight that perfect piece from the flea market.

3. Combine Different Eras

Your room shouldn’t be easily identifiable as a specific time period (I always say that lacquered brass and mauve walls take me back to my 90’s childhood). A room filled with all vintage items will feel like a thrift store or too kitschy. The goal isn’t to create a pastiche of another time but rather to curate an interesting space that appeals to you.

It's essential to keep a good balance. Try pieces from several different eras—an art deco table with an 80's modern coffee table. Mix wood tones and textures. Adding a few deliberate statement pieces throughout your entire home will make it feel natural—as though you collected the pieces over time. Let unique pieces like a beautiful antique rug take center stage while other items play a supporting role.

4. Start Slow

Whether you're in the process of building and designing a new home or slowly revamping your current house, it's always best to gradually transition to vintage pieces. Start with a few pieces of artwork on a gallery wall, a pottery piece, or an interesting set of end tables. Over time, add a few more components—a flea market mirror, a vintage light fixture, and so on.

By going slow, you'll find pieces you truly love and put thought into. Your room won't feel hastily thrown together or haphazard. Try to add a few touches throughout the whole home to complement more modern accessories.

5. Always Choose Quality

It nearly goes without saying—older pieces are often high quality and well crafted, but when it comes to decorating with antiques, quality is everything. Of course, many vintage pieces may show signs of history (a.k.a. a little wear and tear), and that adds to their charm. But look for the maker's marks, dates, and other details that really show authenticity and pride in their craft. When you find a great piece in good condition, it's well worth the investment.

Image: Eneby Home

Techniques like dovetailing or carefully mitered corners reflect the specialness of the piece. Little details, like the legs of a sofa or coffee table, can make a huge difference. These touches are often the “tell” between truly vintage artisanal work and mass-produced reproductions.

6. Don’t Dismiss Restoration

When an item has good bones, it may be well worth the investment to have it refinished or reupholstered but choose wisely. Depending on your style and home personality, some DIY-type restorations can ruin a piece's value and quickly lose appeal.

A talented restoration specialist can ensure your piece is refreshed without losing the vintage charm. Using a professional is essential if you're storing artwork and other items that may retain value for many years. If you need to clean or update some of your favorite antique pieces, look for a quality restoration expert. You can check with your local auction houses or a reputable antique store to find someone who can return your favorite antique pieces to their previous glory.

7. Work with Your Existing Pieces

Use vintage pieces and antiques in your décor to blend into your lifestyle and home. Perhaps a family heirloom has a lot of personal significance—your grandmother's jewelry stand or a vintage pennant from your alma mater. Old things often have a story that gives the room a sense of history and a personal touch.

Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack

You can certainly include these items in any room by carefully choosing other pieces that complement rather than "match." Have a very contemporary style? Those special hand-me-downs can look even more interesting and deliberate with a thoughtful touch. For example, can you pick up a color with some textiles in the room or arrange a few like pieces throughout a built-in shelf?

8. Curate Collections

A stack of vintage books, a grouping of ginger jars, or a collection of white ceramic pieces can be eye-catching when you bring them together. Grouping like with like is a wonderful way to create vignettes and add personality to your home decor. However, collecting can veer into excessive territory, so it’s important to note that not every piece needs to be on display in the same room or all at once.

But if you’ve collected Jadeite pieces for years or have a great set of lettuce ware dishes, they can look beautiful together on some open kitchen shelving or a dining buffet. One of the easiest ways to make a room feel deliberate is to layer several similar pieces together. If you have several of your favorite pieces, group them, but layer collections from different time periods to avoid feeling too “themey.”

9. Repurpose and Play

Many times, antique items might serve another purpose from their original job. For example, an antique armoire might become a living room cabinet, or a vintage rug may become a wall hanging. As times change, a hurricane lantern might not be a functional part of your lighting, but it could still look great amongst modern decor with the right styling.

Image: District Loom

It's important to realize that part of the charm of antiques is that they tell a story. These vintage pieces have history and have withstood the test of time. Whether you're using family heirlooms or vintage finds from your favorite antique store, you can give them a new story and purpose when you get creative. The most crucial guideline for decorating with antiques is having fun. Make your space somewhere that you want to be with pieces you enjoy.

Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack

Decorating with antiques is an expressive opportunity to make your home uniquely yours. Choose pieces that reflect your personal style and have fun collecting and curating new and interesting finds. I'm curious to hear about your favorite antique and vintage treasures. Let me know in the comments!

X Lauren

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