AT A RECENT DINNER PARTY, Deb Bluestein was sitting next to a woman who had just completed a sleek, modern remodel of her bathroom and wanted a vintage touch to warm it up. Bluestein instantly envisioned a pair of mini chandeliers with crystal drops already en route to her South Lake Union consignment store, Modele’s Home Furnishings ( modelesfurniture.com ). The lamps did the trick. “What made it work was the juxtaposition of styles,” says Bluestein. “When you mix in an old piece, it creates texture and adds soul to the room.” After 15 years in the decor biz, she’s noticed a heightened zeal for mixing old with new. “I can’t think of anyone or any designer who isn’t doing it now,” says Bluestein, who attributes the mix-it-up trend to a shifting focus in design magazines—more and more spreads are devoted to eclectic European decor—and an increasingly easygoing attitude toward casual integration of furnishings from all ages.
It’s not just about personality and character—generally, antiques (anything 100 years or older that is handmade) gain value over time; that’s almost never the case with a brand-new item. Here, advice from local pros on incorporating older items into your modern home.
FIND IT David Weatherford, owner of the Capitol Hill design firm and gallery David Weatherford Antiques and Interiors ( David Weatherford Antiques and Interiors ), says garage sales and auction houses are choice hunting grounds for tracking quality older items, but newbies should bring along an expert once they feel ready to pounce. “Often the auction houses say they are not fully responsible for what is written in the item description,” says Weatherford. “You have to learn for many years before you are able to recognize a true antique.”
PLAY WITH IT Interior designer Paula Devon Raso ( pauladevonraso.com ) advises shoppers to prepare for a lot of trial and error—plus some careful self-editing—when working antiques into a design scheme. “Ask yourself whether the objects or furniture add punctuation without taking over,” says Raso, “and try to create a careful balance of old and new using texture, color, and shape.”
REUPHOLSTER IT Because recovering furniture is so pricey, Rick Baye, owner of Designer Fabric Liquidations ( designerfabricliquidations.com ), suggests reupholstering only pieces around 25 years old or older, since the quality of the frame will be superior to any mass-market items sold today. “You’ll pay probably about the same amount as you would to buy a new piece of furniture,” says Baye, “but you would be paying exponentially more to match that quality buying new today.” Baye also suggests checking out Pacific Fabrics and Crafts ( pacificfabrics.com ), which offers reupholstering classes for aspiring DIYers.
PAINT IT A simple trick Bluestein recommends is matching a modern table with vintage chairs or vice versa. If the chairs are a grab bag of styles or periods, paint them all one color—such as a glossy white or black—for a unified look.
Paint can also transform a shabby Craigslist find into a sleek or cheerful statement. Any oil- or latex-based paint (they vary in finish, from eggshell matte to semigloss) will do when painting wood, but to achieve an even overall color you should first smooth it with sandpaper, then follow up with a coat of a primer designed specifically for wood.
REPURPOSE IT Bluestein likes to remind clients that older pieces need not be used for their intended purpose. Give an antique door a second life as a tabletop, for instance, or turn an old vase into a lamp. In the age of green chic, reincarnations show off your earthy, creative side and infuse any room with a welcome hit of personality.