It’s no secret that I’m an avid advocate for the rescue, repair, and preservation of antiques. Architectural antiques. Furniture antiques. Antique clocks. Antique dishes and flatware. Every time I snag a historical item for our home or someone else’s, I feel like Wonder Woman. Come to think of it, with the exception of those creepy antique stuffed cats, I love just about everything that’s been steeped in history! 

But I do need to qualify that statement, because I also really enjoy going against my natural grain and working with more contemporary designs. In fact, I enjoy it quite a lot. There are elements of each period-dated design style that I’ve come to appreciate. Affection for the old certainly doesn’t discount love of the new. One of my all time favorite design hacks is the melding of contrasting styles—old with new, modern with time-worn, European with…well, anything. 

Imagine the scene—a contemporary living room. The furniture is sleek and minimalist. Lines are sharp and the style is chic. The wall color is muted, perhaps whitish or the palest of gray. Artwork is intentionally chosen and aptly reflects the personalities of those who will inhabit the room. For all intensive purposes, the room was lifted straight off the pages of Architectual Digest. You can see it right? 

Of course you can, you’ve seen it dozens of times already. Furniture companies, high-end designers, popular magazines, and television shows are making sure we see what they do—that modern, transitional, and art deco designs are all the rage right now. And even though I’m a confessed purist who leans towards historical styles, I really do appreciate these more contemporary fashions because they make my antiques look even better. Wait…what? 

That wasn’t sarcasm. Oddly enough, modern styles play exceptionally well with old pieces. The reverse is also true. Nothing accents a room of contemporary decor quite as well as an antique or two.

I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s revisit that beautifully styled room we were discussing above. Now, imagine that an antique mirror (or antique reproduction mirror) hangs above the fireplace. Let’s say the mirror is rather ornate and gilded in gold. (The thought makes my heart go pitter patter!) It’s the kind of mirror Napoleon would have posed in front of.

 

No, not him! This guy.

 

It’s French. It’s baroque. That’s right. It’s beautiful, because it toes the line between just right and gaudy. Now, let’s keep imagining. Both the left and right sides of our fabulous mantel mirror are flanked with contemporary wall art. And museum-style track lighting illuminates the entire wall of interest.

Can you visualize how the older-styled piece (the mirror) is precisely what those modern pieces of art needed? It’s all about the #contrast. If you really want an item to look modern, pair it with something old. Want to make a unique statement? Combine the really old with the really new, and watch your own wizardry come to life. By all means, don’t limit yourself to mirrors. Go for end tables accented with ornate brass features. Try using an antique mantle in an otherwise modern room. How about an antique upholstered chair tucked in the corner of that leather clad art deco room? Come on, muster the courage. Be brave. Go against the grain and channel your artsy side.

It only takes one piece of the past, one special heirloom or funky antique, to inspire an entire room! So get to it.