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There are lots of reasons why even young people are buying old stuff. It’s environmentally and budget friendly and in an era of mass production, it allows you to add something unique to your home.
“What’s novelty for young people is a trip down memory lane for others,” says Allister McCrae, owner of Orono Antique Market, a multi-vendor market that offers antique furniture, Victorian and art glass, china, mid-century art, collectibles and more.
Antique shoppers appreciate pieces that are made well, like a solid mahogany dresser that’s priced at a fraction of the cost of new. Many are looking for accent pieces. “There’s a story with most of the items here and we like to pass those stories along,” McCrae says.
Incorporating some vintage pieces into modern interiors tends to result in a “more curated, thoughtful approach to design,” assures Bren Petrunick, creative founder of Simply White Interiors, a design firm based in Niagara on the Lake.
“Whether they’ve been handed down, discovered at yard sales or collected during travels, antiques tell stories that become woven into the fabric of a home. Older items add subtle layers of texture, warmth and character into contemporary spaces that help balance the linear, minimalistic elements of modern design.”
Keep a list of the pieces you’re looking for as well as dimensions of the area in which you’d like to place them, so you don’t needlessly buy something you don’t need. Don’t be deterred by dingy upholstery or minor scratches and blemishes. “It’s the bones of a piece that really determine its quality and fit for your space. Refurbishing and reupholstery work will only add value to the furniture.”
Petrunick is always on the lookout for high quality occasional tables and chairs because they have the most flexibility both in function and placement. “After being reupholstered in fresh fabric, a well-proportioned occasional chair will be the envy of any living room, but it can also steal the show in an office, nursey, bathroom or foyer,” she says.
Side tables are another favourite, but the designer admits a “show-stopping” buffet or hutch is the ultimate find. “Not only do these pieces offer additional storage and display space, but they also add character and charm to any room, and they can be painted, stained or simply given a good cleaning to complement the existing décor.”
Displaying collections is an artform. Several knickknacks scattered around a room or throughout a home can feel cluttered and overdone, but a carefully curated and displayed collection can provide a focal point and generates conversation, Petrunick advises.
Gallery walls are an impactful way to highlight a collection. “Displaying a grouping of vintage china, clocks, cutting boards, hats or hardware on a wall offers big visual impact. You can also use shelving, hutches and sideboards as another area to group and showcase your treasures.”
If you want to refurbish an antique, hardware, finish and fabric are the first and most obvious places to focus your attention. “Sometimes, simply using a piece of furniture in a non-traditional way can bring the item back to life,” she says.
“Dressers can be repurposed into vanities for an eye-catching update to a powder room or ensuite. Antique dry sinks make great bars and change tables, while hutches and china cabinets can be transformed into multiuse pieces such as a mail drop combined with a home office or study area.”
Pay attention to balance. “An overabundance of antiques can feel heavy, whereas just one or two pieces looks forced. I caution people against incorporating too many antiques that are simply for show and lacking in purpose or function in a room, as this can lead to an overwhelming, cluttered living space that doesn’t inspire rest and rejuvenation,” Petrunick says.
Avoid tipping the design scale toward too much of a good thing. “Layering is the key to any space, and mixing old and new elements requires careful consideration so the end result is balanced.”
Because antiques are often made from wood, wicker, iron and leather, Patrunick recommends incorporating simpler, softer and lighter elements to offset their heaviness. “When a space is cluttered with colour and texture, nothing captures your attention and there is nowhere for the eye to rest. Ensure that for every element of focus, equal attention is paid to areas of visual white space or pause.”
Still, remember the first rule of design: there are no rules. “An over-designed space with a perfectly coordinated palette of colour is not for everyone,” says Petrunick. “So yes, you can mix wood grains, metals and finishes of all types to create a unique aesthetic that reflects the personality and style of the people who inhabit the space.”
What to look for
Know what to look for when determining an antique’s condition and value. “A maker’s mark, which is a stamp, tag or label often found on the back of furniture or the bottom of drawers, will offer clues to the history and quality of the piece,” says Bren Petrunick of Simply White Interiors. “You can also look for details in the craftsmanship that signal a piece has been well made, such as dovetail drawers or spun legs.”