Specialist, Emma Barnett provides an insight into how integrating antiques into your house can truly make it a home.
12 December 2023
The walls are painted, the furniture arranged, and the curtains hung - but ‘something’ is missing. Something that adds character and personality to your home beyond its carefully considered colour scheme. You won’t find it in a glossy magazine or online advert. It will be something unique that you love and treasure. Whether that ‘something’ is a family heirloom, or a flea market find, antiques can add an extra dimension to a room – the final touch to tell a story. But if integrating a famille rose vase or Victorian chamber pot into your modern abode seems like a daunting (or with the latter, maybe even bewildering) prospect, then here are some tips to help you balance the old and new:
A good place to start is to consider your design style. What would complement your existing décor and room? Integrating antiques can be as simple as collecting things you like, perhaps embarking on a personal Grand Tour (but that does not mean turning your house into a National Trust property). In fact, many contemporary design trends lend themselves to layering antique items – one of the most popular being Maximalism.
Maximalist interiors have been at the forefront of contemporary design since 2018, after gaining significant traction in mainstream media with nearly 500,000 hashtag posts on Instagram. The vibrant style lends itself to a mix-match of aesthetics and periods, juxtaposing a Turkish kilim cushion with an Edwardian floral armchair. Surprisingly, the more fabrics you add, the calmer a room can become (vacant block colours can often feel hotel-like). Although trending on social media, the concept of maximalism is not new. The grandiosity of baroque interiors, in all their gilded glamour, is arguably echoed in the ‘More is More’ approach. However, there is no need to go full-on Louis XIV and create your own Hall of Mirrors. The key is to start small (with the accessories and accents) and build up. Begin by livening up the soft furnishings, then fill the blank spaces with figurative paintings. Before you know it, you have found the perfect piece of mid-century pottery to elevate your surface and tie the room together.
For those seeking a more classic style, the ‘Country House’ aesthetic is emblematic of English interior design. Its decorative tropes are easily discernible: a mix of antique furnishings curated in a modern manner, offset by a delft tobacco jar of flowers. However, the style is not exclusive to Cotswolds country estates – it is adopted by Americans as much as it is East Londoners. The appeal comes from its warm and inviting atmosphere. It embraces antiques in all their rustic charm, where there is nothing wrong with a bit of wear and tear. The poster boy of this design has become the Staffordshire dog, which has remarkably seen a resurgence with a new generation of interior designers – kitsch is cool again! In a similar vein, 2023 has seen the rise of ‘Quiet’ or ‘Elevated Luxury’ in fashion: the placement of a few high-quality antiques against a backdrop of modernity. And in true country house style, what could be more luxurious than a well-proportioned mahogany chest or carved marble bust?
Fashions come and go, but one trend looking to stand the test of time is Sustainable Design. With environmental concerns growing, a contemporary interior should be forward-thinking and eco-friendly. In 2022, the Auction Technology Group released their Carbon Impact Report, which proved that buying at auction significantly reduces your carbon footprint. It came as no surprise to discover that this was largely due to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing and transporting new materials. So why do we continue our modern love affair with mass-produced furniture? Incorporating antiques is a case of quality over quantity. It’s time to break up with charmless flat-packs and seek furniture with more personality. A single statement piece, such as a lacquered longcase or painted marriage chest, can become the focal point of a room. Not to mention that antiques become antique for a reason: their superior craftsmanship withstands the centuries. Selecting a few high-quality antiques will bring character into your home whilst extending their lifespan to promote a circular economy.
With newfound design inspiration in hand and your mood board ready, the final question is – where do I source antiques? Fairs and brocantes historically contain hidden gems, but there is a certain amount of trawling through the average before you can find the extraordinary. With a true modern outlook, the most straightforward way is to buy at auction. Browsing sales is as easy as searching John Lewis, and most auction houses will have remote online bidding platforms. At Sworders, we continually look for pioneering ways to make the joy of antiques more accessible. So, it’s time to get hunting and construct your own unique space that combines the best of both worlds.
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