Decorating With Antiques—Without Channeling A Museum

Antiques, a hallmark of gracious living, are also a hallmark of our interior design practice. We rarely do a project that doesn’t incorporate some, or many, time-honored treasures. And for good reason; they add character, luxury and balance to a home. For example, one quirky or fantastical piece can warm up an entire room, or give it an intriguing edge. And a collection of singular objects interspersed throughout a home can imbue it with personality and soul.

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An 18th century Chinoiserie chest from England is a transformative piece that can change the nature of a space, as it has in the foyer of our project in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Photo: State Parkway Residence

But as interior designers, we’ve found that achieving that all-important balance is easier said than done. The big question is how to keep your home from feeling formal, stodgy and static—or more bluntly put, like a display of historical furniture in the Art Institute of Chicago? There’s a fine line between the ‘formally curated’ and the ‘thoughtfully collected.’ Plus, decorating a room with furnishings from wildly different periods, or incorporating a whole collection into a home, can be hard to pull off.

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The blend of sleek modernism and romantic classicism in this Barcelona living room is hard to execute despite the effortless grace it exudes. Photo: Home Adore

Our team has spent a lot of time perfecting this part of the interior design process. And we’re found a few guidelines we tend to follow—most of the time, since we’re never totally rigid about design rules. Breaking them sometimes yields fabulous results, as we learned the first time we flouted convention in a 1920s Belle Époque apartment in Chicago’s Gold Coast, filled with the most elaborate and exquisite millwork imaginable. That was years ago, and we used modern accents to offset the apartment’s stellar bones and the homeowner’s extraordinary antique collection. But in general, we help our clients live with antiques using the following three strategies.

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Modern classics offset the frothy Beaux Arts architectural details of this Scandinavian home, and prove an apt anchor for an eclectic range of antiques. Photo: upintheatticus

Mix Opposites: Just as a perfectly matched outfit can be boring, perfectly matched pieces are often lifeless in a space. We always try to pair the old and the new, the serious and the unexpected and the high and the low—and that’s just when it comes to the objects and accessories we layer on a room’s foundational pieces. Before we get to that point, we’ve already integrated all-important contrast into the equation by mixing shapes and styles, such as hard and soft, masculine and feminine or angular and curvy.

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A mix of shapes and styles abound in this Chicago penthouse, where a curvy 18th century Italian Girandole breaks the rigor of a rectangular mirror, and the pristine lines of a modern console are softened by vintage Louis XVI chairs. Photo: Lake Shore Drive Penthouse

Banish display cases: When you put pieces behind glass in display cases or curio cabinets, it says ‘off limits.’ While that works for pieces that are fragile, many of the collectibles we see in our work as interior designers can offer up pleasure when we handle them, such as a strand of massive ancient amber beads or a quirky carved box. By sequestering them, you lose the luxury of experiencing them intimately and deriving the touch of indulgence they can impart. So we believe many pieces should actually be cited in spots that make them accessible rather then unreachable.

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A headless bust becomes a beloved ‘mascot’ of sorts rather than a grand sculpture when it’s possible to run a hand over its sumptuous marble curves. Photo: Veranda

Give them focus: There’s optical power, and order, in numbers. One of anything becomes far more visually compelling—and likely to garner attention—when it has partners to share the glory of our sight. And arraying single objects around a room not only diminishes their visual importance, it can make a space look cluttered. For that reason, we concentrate collectibles in a few defined spaces so they become focal points in a room—a skill that takes a deft, knowing and experienced touch despite the seeming nonchalance of the results.

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Disparate objects become a visually intriguing assemblage when grouped together, but it takes a deft touch to get the right balance in a tableau. Photo: Vancollier via Pinterest

28 Aug 2015

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