Mixing old and new interior design can demand innovative ideas while still creating a warm feel for a room or home. Some of the inspiration for this article comes from Family Ties vs. Interior Design from the October 25, 2015 issue of the Wall Street Journal.
Hold on to anything labeled Herman Miller, Knoll, Dunbar, Baker, Brown Saltman and Widdicomb, among others, unless you loathe it. It’s well-constructed even if it isn’t priceless. Pieces made of bronze, brass, solid walnut, solid maple and marble are also worth finding a home for.
There are times when sentiment trumps everything. When people have a connection to objects, keeping them is “not only a design decision, it’s an emotional one, and one that needs to be respected.” “Fortunately, however, mixing pieces of many eras and styles has rarely had as much design currency as it does today among professional designers and DIY decorators alike”, according to Robin Baron, current president of the Greater New York chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.
“And if you have every room that’s very sleek, you can put in something with a worn appearance or even something curved, carved or gilt”, said Darryl Carter, a Washington, DC, designer and author of “The Collected Home: Rooms with Style, Grace and History”. For example, a client integrated a small handmade table made by their father who had studies with a Japanese-American master woodworker George Nakashima, and Mr. Carter had “a metal artisan laser-cut an asymmetrical shape in the table’s top so the wooden piece could be inset”.
To make a house feel fresh and young consider whitewashing wooden occasional chairs and covering them in a bold floral linen to create a more English country-house cheerful than hand-me-down dour. Mr. Carter is not only partial to applying a white gesso, but also to ebonizing, for example he covered a client’s sentimental brown breakfront with black paint, then gussied it up with new hardware and a white Carrara marble top. Adding a stone top he noted, “can be done affordably by buying a remnant at a stone yard.”
Some family jewels do well in a prominent setting. In his Atlanta home, designer Stan Tool framed a quilt from his mother’s bedroom to hang as artwork in his sitting room. Designers frequently update old furnishings with a sensitive face-lift. “Vintage and antique pieces are usually better quality than new furniture, but I see no harm in making the finish more suitable to the interior you have,” says Stephen Jones, a Beverly Hills interior designer.
Rachel Laxer, who works in London and New York has the answer to Grammy’s somewhat ghastly Victorian parlor sofa and chairs? “Cover them in a simple fabric that allows the frame and details to shine and pair them with a more modern coffee table.”
Sometimes the necessity of including inherited pieces gives birth to more than cosmetic innovation. When presented with one client’s 1960s glass-topped wooden coffee table, West Hollywood designer Tommy Chambers removed the glass, stripped and stained the table, then added a top cushion and bolster to create a daybed. At home, Mr. Chambers mounted to his dining room wall the Japanese sword chest in which his grandfather had stored tools, creating a floating sideboard with room on top for a drinks bar.
“Integrating a family heirloom adds warmth and history”, he noted. “It’s good to have these things, however quirky they may be, as long as they are loved and make my clients feel at home.” So, mixing old and new interior design can be a necessary skill.