An antique Victrola is a sculpture in your modern living room.

How to Mix Antiques & Modern Decor

by Benna Crawford

Teach your kids to appreciate good design and history by surrounding them with a mix of both old and new decor. Special pieces that are centuries old act as counterpoints to a modern aesthetic and turn an ordinary, contemporary room into a complex style statement. From an elegant family bath to your baby's nursery to a formal, grown-up living room -- transform your entire house into a showcase for period pieces mixed with today's design in livable, original decor.

Cradle and All

The heirloom cradle from great-great grandma sits perfectly in the master bedroom, its wrought-iron filigree an intricate note alongside your minimalist brushed aluminum bed frame. Synchronize two very different looks with similar bedding; pick up the stripe in your gray-and-white sheets with pale lilac-and-white striped baby linens, satin lilac and gray ribbons trimming cradle bumpers and the striped fabric again as a gathered skirt. Once baby is ready for the nursery, let the cradle share space with a contemporary oval crib in pale wood and white laminate, a matching dresser with a removable changing platform, and a bright array of books and plush toys. A Calder-style mobile that hangs over the cradle can transition to the crib with the baby. Pile the out-grown cradle with stuffed animals, dolls and a patchwork quilt so it softens the modern angles of the room.

King's Court

Play with modern and real antique chairs for a light touch in the museum-quality surroundings of your contemporary living room. Pewter-gray walls set the stage for carefully curated pieces from today's designers. A grown-up space -- with a white leather Italian couch, angular exotic wood nesting tables, and hardwood or slate floors partly covered by a modern designer carpet of big stripes, circles or an abstract nature pattern -- needs a few chairs. Late 18th-century Louis XVI chairs are simple and elegant with straight lines and modest curves. The neoclassical designs are rendered in fine hardwoods, stained and polished, gilded or traced with original paint. Philippe Starck copied the unfussy look of the Louis chairs in his clear polycarbonate version, known as the "ghost chair." Pair the antique with one or two of the modern classics to finish off a room.


Century-old farm cupboards come with character and a sense of history to complement a sleek, modern room. A tall corner cupboard with age-crazed, faded paint, hand-hewn latches and not-quite-plumb shelves has many more years of graceful service as a closed breakfront in the dining room or a dresser-substitute for a shabby-chic teen. Pair it with a contemporary slab of hardwood dining table flanked by stark, angular chairs made-to-order from a local cabinetmaker. Tuck it into a bedroom with a platform bed covered by a white duvet, a full-height, frameless mirror leaning against one wall, an upended apple crate for a nightstand and criss-crossed rows of fairy lights, some with tiny paper shades, creating a web of light near the ceiling.

Subway Slipper Tub

Treasure the Edwardian enamel slipper tub parked in the middle of the badly-needs-renovation bathroom and give it new life in an updated setting. Re-tile the floor with large midnight-blue and white diamond-shaped tile and use white subway tile up three of the walls to a white ceiling. Paint a mural with a cobalt blue or lapis lazuli background and stylized white palm trees on the remaining wall. For even more drama, create the mural from mosaic tile. Use rubbed bronze fixtures for the tub and sink with a fluffy white bath mat and white, deep blue and peach-pink towels. Light things up with an Edwardian crystal purse chandelier or an antique Murano glass confection of colored leaves and flowers.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

Photo Credits

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