DECORATING WITH ANTIQUES
Combining the old with the new can make for an interesting look in home decor
Antiques may be old, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of date. Just ask Jennifer Rowntree, the owner of Rowntree Antiques, who said she can barely keep up with the demand for large, antique diningroom tables made of pine as well as old enamelware, vintage bottles, window mirrors and, of course, a perennial favourite: globes.
“I think there’s a reversal going on at the moment. I experienced a bit of a lull four or five years ago and size was a key factor in that, what with people moving into smaller condos and not having the room for large antiques, but I’m very careful about what I buy now and I’m always thinking small,” Rowntree explained. “That being said, I can’t keep enough large diningroom tables in stock — people just love to plop modern chairs around them — so it really depends on the piece and the space it’s intended for.”
Niki Panagiotopoulos, an interior designer and the owner of Wish Decor, which recently launched an online shop consisting of handpicked home decor and lifestyle products, agrees.
“From a design standpoint, the most dynamic contemporary interiors are not designed with furnishings of a particular style, time or look, but a combination of periods,” she said.
“When antiques are edited and skillfully added here and there, it makes a space a lot more interesting.”
Panagiotopoulos makes it sound easy, but there is a method to decorating with antiques.
“When it comes to furniture, it’s best when the antique pieces are separated from each other or when they’re placed around newer objects,” she said. “This automatically gives them more importance and makes them more relevant. Opposites attract, and the juxtaposition of opposites is what makes the look interesting.”
As for smaller collectible items, like Rowntree’s popular vintage bottles, Panagiotopoulos recommends grouping them by type and colour and making sure they’re easily visible — on a shelf or coffee table.
“It’s a nice way of creating an interesting story or vignette,” she said.
In a way, stories are what antiques are all about.
“It’s about going beyond cookiecutter decor and allowing people to personalize their space,” Rowntree said. “Keeping heritage or heirloom pieces in the family is part of that as well; just the fact that it’s something that your grandparents used to own makes a space feel more personal and cosy.”
Panagiotopoulos explained: “Antiques add a lot of depth and give a space a very unique look, and when an item is a conversation piece or has a story to tell, it’s always warmer and more inviting,
“Because these objects are made by hand, instead of by machines, they’re unique. There’s almost a human quality attached to them, and I think people find that intriguing and inviting; they have the kind of personality that new pieces in regular furniture stores have been stripped of.”
Because of the inherent warmth of antique furniture, and the fact that much of it is made of wood, the designer cautioned against pairing it with warm paint tones since the overall effect can end up looking old-fashioned instead of new and interesting.
Displaying antiques in unusual or unexpected ways is another way of updating them. Rowntree said a lot of her clients like to use antique ladders in their washrooms, to store towels, because they’re handy space savers.
“Antique wooden buckets make for great accent pieces in modern bathrooms, too,” she said, “and they can be used to store a variety of items.”
Speaking of storage, Panagiotopoulos loves the look of an old chest or dresser that’s been repurposed and used in a bathroom as a vanity.
“The juxtaposition of materials alone, in a modern bathroom, is very striking, but it’s also a very classy and unexpected way of providing storage, which a lot of new homes and condos don’t have a lot of.”
For pieces that aren’t in top condition, Rowntree suggests using a chalk-based paint like Country Chic Paint, which her shop carries, to bring them back to life. “The chalk painted look is on trend these days, and people really like the look of lighter, off-white antiques.”
As for Panagiotopoulos, she said there’s nothing wrong with updating furniture that needs a little tender loving care.
“If the piece is in great shape, it should be respected as much as possible but if it’s not, I don’t see anything wrong with a little spray paint or chalk-based paint,” she said. “One of my favourite things to do is to reupholster an old sofa or chair in a modern fabric; it completely transforms it.”