5 ways to work with modern vintage
My family and I live in a beautiful, architecturally designed rammed earth home that has slick concrete floors, high ceilings and crisp white walls. I love its clean-cut contours and uncluttered lines but, because it’s a relatively new build, it can sometimes feel a little devoid of personality. So lately we’ve been scouting vintage stores and second-hand shops for unique pieces that reflect our individual style without taking away from the contemporary setting.
The term ‘modern vintage’ may sound like a contradiction but the trend of mixing old and new is certainly not… well, new! Incorporating bygone pieces into contemporary living spaces brings both style and substance to interior design. Here are five examples that illustrate just how easy it is to fuse the two.
Above image courtesy of Domino
1. Display decorative glass bottles
Originally from Italy where they were used as wine decanters, these vintage genie bottles create a beautiful focal point when grouped together, especially in front of a window where sunlight can shine through them. While I often see them in antique stores and garage sales, the authentic designs can come with a high price tag – anywhere between $50 and $250 – so make sure you check carefully for chips, especially on the stopper.
Look out also for hand-blown vintage glass vases, bowls and even ashtrays, which also create visual intrigue, either as standalone pieces displayed on a bookshelf or side cupboard, or assembled in a collection on your dresser or dining table.
2. Re-purpose everyday objects
Surfing is a big part of our lives, so it made sense to incorporate it into our home décor. We have two boards mounted on the wall – an old one we bought for $50 from a garage sale and this burnt orange, single fin fibreglass longboard that has been re-sprayed and now sits above the dining table in a holiday rental we own. Both boards give our homes a retro beach feel, with their soft curves and bold colours contrasting nicely against the stark white walls.
Other vintage pieces that look great re-purposed include old suitcases stacked on top of one another to use as bedside tables or converted into chairs. Consider also using wooden milk crates as bookshelves, displaying jewellery in tin tackle boxes, or storing tea towels in a beautiful vintage scale.
3. Reupholster vintage chairs
The original fabric on the 1970’s chair above was not only in bad condition when we bought the setting secondhand, but the apricot chintz pattern clashed with the earthy tones found in our concrete floors and rammed earth walls. In order to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere for the dining room, we decided to reupholster all eight chairs with a retro pattern. (We’re still on the hunt for a bright orange shag rug to complete the look.)
Other clever ways to integrate vintage chairs into a modern home is to use them as bedside tables, or mix different styles for an eclectic dining table setting. Mixing chairs in a variety of styles and shapes is an effective way to add striking accents to your home but keep scale in mind and try to have similar seat heights so none of your guests sit lower than others.
4. Showcase heirloom pieces
Family heirlooms and hand-me-downs are a visual reminder of our past, be it a bed you slept in as a child or a chest of drawers handed down through the generations. While they bring enormous sentimental value into the home, they’re often relegated to the back of a cupboard or spare room when they don’t suit the rest of the décor.
If your grandmother’s Waterford crystal set completely clashes with your sleek, Jensen-style glass wear, create a centerpiece to make it a focal point. Grouping the collection – or even heirlooms from different eras – together not only instigates a conversation point but also provides an intriguing contrast to the rest of the room.
Hand carved chests of drawers may not be necessary in bedrooms with built-in robes but they can look great in a lounge or hallway while also a providing useful storage solution.
5. Incorporate vintage lighting
Pulley pendant lights, glass chandeliers, wrought iron Edison pendants and porcelain enamel barn lights – these are just some of the vintage lights that add instant drama to modern interiors. While shape, size and colour will influence what works in your home, patina also plays a significant role. It might be tempting to brush off the thin layer that forms on the surface of old copper and bronze light shades but it can add a lovely sense of history and authenticity to the space.
A word of caution: when purchasing vintage or secondhand lighting from overseas, check that the wiring and fittings are compatible with Australia’s 240-volt system. Factoring in the cost of an electrician might make you think twice about bidding.