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How to mix old and new styles

Creating a scheme that combines modern pieces with inherited, vintage or antique elements can be tricky. If you want to learn a little about the tricks of the trade, read on...

The hardest style to get right, as any interior designer will tell you, isn’t contemporary or classical, but the fusion of these two different styles to create an eclectic or lived-in look. Combining old and new, or marrying vintage with modern, can produce a room that looks as though it has evolved over many years. This creates a sense of comfort and uniqueness like nothing else can. It also helps to create a timeless result meaning that you won't be a victim to fads or popular design trends. There’s something special about a room that stimulates your nostalgic senses, but creating a balance so that the room looks elegant rather than untidy or a mishmash of junk can be challenging. Let's take a look!


As with any room, determining the overall feel you want to achieve is the best starting point. Do you want the space to feel elegant, fresh, lived-in, relaxed, classic or boho? Getting this sorted before you start will make this easier for you as you proceed and will help you to stay on track. When you decorate, there's all kinds of visual stimulus that can very easily sway you and steer you off course.


Deciding on the colour palette is next. When using lots of interesting individual elements, you have two clear choices; neutral or bold. You may know which way you want to go right away. If not, just take a stroll down 'Pinterest' lane or open up your collection of decorator magazines and make up your mind. No matter which one you decide on, a colour consultant (that's me) maybe is good idea unless you are super confident with colour. Colour selection can really make or break a design outcome...any of you who have made colour misteaks before will agree that it can be an expensive, heartbreaking and time consuming error to fix.


It’s also imperative to unify the scheme and create a backdrop to the furnishings by choosing the right flooring. Hardwood is the best way to achieve this, but other solid surfaces can work equally well. Fitted carpet is generally too ‘suburban’ for this genre, although rugs, particularly tribal or geometric designs, anchor the room and bring in warmth in an unpretentious way.


Stunning spaces with high ceilings, fabulous windows and original features provide the perfect backdrop to any design, and it is possible to introduce a little of this to a less architecturally interesting space. Eclectic interiors tend to be based on either traditional or industrial roots, so adding raw elements such as exposed brickwork, weathered textural wall finishes and classically styled fireplaces will help to set the scene. To add this element to a more modern space, take a look at some wallpaper ideas to add character to your space.

For smaller rooms, a worn, country-style finish will be easier to achieve, integrating vintage pieces and large contemporary art for impact. To maximise the sense of space, keep window treatments to a minimum and be careful not to over-clutter design.


A room that cleverly combines old and new is cohesive and calm; there’s no single ‘feature’ item and the eye travels from one design to another, taking in the style of each. To ensure your rooms are stylish, not chaotic, every item used must be of good quality or beautiful in its own right. Combine and group pieces to allow the individual charm of each to be appreciated, and it’s better to use items that contrast in period or look than those that are simply a ‘bit different’. For example, combining a heavily carved armoire with the clean lines of colourful Panton chairs will produce a contrast that allows both to be appreciated individually.


It’s also important to be aware of the scale of each piece within the space, as getting the proportions right is essential to how furnishings relate to one another, particularly when creating an eclectic scheme. Oversized designs are generally better than undersized, for example in pendant lighting – some of the most impressive schemes combine contemporary seating with vintage chandeliers and classical mirrors.


Mixing different styles within the same scheme works if there is a balance between the numbers of pieces used. For example, one Georgian sideboard thrown in with a few Chinese and contemporary pieces will stand out for the wrong reasons. Instead, distribute designs so that they aren’t grouped in their periods or styles. If you have inherited a vintage piece of furniture, helping it to fit in can be as easy as finding a few accessories from the same era to tie it in.

While the overall look of the room is important, a successful eclectic space is made up of smaller vignettes. Imagine taking photographs around the room for a magazine – if you can find several areas that produce exquisite snapshots, it’s likely you will have achieved a stunning final space.


The way you use your items in the space is equally as significant as the actual item. An effective eclectic scheme should be theatrical in style. To achieve this, try re-purposing favourite items, such as an old ladderback chair as a bedside table, a vintage suitcase as a coffee table, or an industrial workbench as a dining table.

Another great way to be creative with furniture and create a unique look is to upcycle vintage pieces using contemporary fabrics and colours, achieving a one-off piece that bridges the gap between styles.


While ‘worn’ and aged pieces can be a lovely addition, too many can give the effect of a junk shop rather than the elegant look you’re trying to create. To get it right, mix them with smooth, unblemished surfaces and silky textures. Try a mirrored tray on a worn timber coffee table or a new silk cushion on a distressed leather chair. Mixing a strong and symmetrical display, such as framed pictures on a contemporary-coloured wall, can be the perfect contrast to weathered, vintage-style furnishings.

Introducing natural textures, such as leather, faux-fur, wool and linen, will also help to create a more relaxed feel. Layer sumptuous throws and cushions and incorporate a range of lamps to achieve a cosy ambience and bring the look to life.


For maximum impact, group collectibles together to make a ‘story’. Anything collected from your travels or something that is a special part of your family history can turn an otherwise unremarkable corner into an interesting and personal space. There is a currently a huge trend for using decorative glass domes to encapsulate cherished collections; the key to a successful arrangement is using domes of different heights and textures.

You can also use your passions, such as musical instruments or vintage cameras, for example, to accessorise the scheme. Books in vast quantities are another way to introduce interest, but to give your space a more design-led look.


If the look as a whole isn’t quite working, it’s a good idea to remove pieces one by one to see whether a specific item is letting it down or call your interior designer (thats me! LOL) to help you troubleshoot the issue. For larger pieces of furniture, throw a sheet over them to remove them from your view while you assess the space. Take note of what catches your eye first and how you visually navigate the room; if you get ‘stuck’ in one place, is it because an element is too strong, or that the other areas may not hold enough interest? Often colour can be the subtle link required to unify the space. Try using cushions or accessories to draw the eye from one area to another. An item of dark wood furniture will sit more easily within the scheme if other dark wood elements are brought in, even if it’s only with a few vases. A truly eclectic look that successfully combines old and new is always achieved organically and will evolve with you. Allow your space to be an ever-changing and inspiring environment that’s a reflection of you and your family.

If you need more help, I'm here for you. Now off you go and start planning....

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