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  • Writer's pictureLeslie James

Decorating with Antiques

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Many of the blog posts out there give directions on how to decorate with antiques by seeking out trusted sources or focusing on design principles like statement vs. accent pieces. Before you even get to those stages, I think it's important to understand what goes into making an antique or architectural salvage piece actually work in your home.

Architectural design makes sure the antique fits the space.

While I think this is a relatively new (at least to me!) term getting bandied about as more homeowners take on remodeling projects post-pandemic, architectural design speaks to the functional design of a home or a room -- what will actually fit within the space.

This "building design" work may be done by a licensed architect, or may simply be a component of the design process when working with a design-build firm.

An elevation drawing of a kitchen remodel done by an architectural designer.
Architectural design: an elevation drawing of my recent kitchen remodel.

Architectural design often involves blueprints or schematics from professional CAD drawings to quick mock-ups in Sketchup (my preferred tool as a lowly homeowner). Below you can see some quick renderings of how we played with the location of a bedroom and bathroom in the basement based on egress window constraints and existing plumbing runs.

Having solid architectural designs is critical to decorating with antiques because it doesn't matter how lovely that antique Kohler sink or that Virden chandelier is if it won't physically fit in your space.

Let your architectural designer know up front that you want to use antiques in your design so that they can account for "non-standard" (by modern terms) variations like shallower cabinet bases and structural reinforcement to support a 200lb sink.

Antique apron front double basin 1929 Kohler kitchen sink
This 1929 Kohler sink is supported by wall brackets with lag bolts, angle iron underneath, and a reinforced cabinet frame.

It's always easier to have the antique in hand BEFORE you lay out the design than it is to retrofit an antique into a space that was designed for modern fixtures.

Interior design makes sure the antique works with other pieces.

Most homeowners are familiar with the concept of interior design -- building a lovely, functional interior space. But many folks have shied away from using them and gone the DIY route, simply due to cost. While you may save a few (or many!) bucks, it can be challenging to get the scale and proportions of the new pieces to work with the existing pieces in a room.

Thankfully, now there are firms that have more transparent pricing, as well as a slew of online options -- Havenly, Modsy, and Decorist to name but a few. But because online design teams make most of their money as markup on products that you can buy outright, they won't recommend antiques -- they will only incorporate them if you already have them in-hand.

So if you are committed to decorating with antiques, it may be best to hire a local interior designer, or ask if the design fee charged by a design-build firm doing your remodel covers interior design as well. Or find the antique pieces that you love FIRST, and then hire a designer to build a design that includes the antiques as the main focal points.

If you are going for a Victorian aesthetic, consider working with multiple fabrics or adding historically appropriate wallpaper, like those from Bradbury & Bradbury, on the walls and ceiling. And remember that a Victorian room will get better with time, and can be built one thoughtful investment at a time.

But the first step is finding them. Constrain your search!

Previously I gave you a rundown on where to find antiques, but before you start shopping, it's helpful to have a few constraints nailed down.

Style of Your House / Room / Desired Piece

What era is your home? What other pieces are you incorporating into the design? By no means do you need to be matchy-matchy, and oftentimes it's better that you aren't! But keeping a design thread throughout your home will ensure that the end result feels harmonious instead of disjointed.

Using evocative adjectives like craftsman, industrial, moody, ornate, gilded era, etc. can help hone in on your overall aesthetic.

Function of the Antique

What are you hoping to use the piece for? Do you need linen storage? Do you need more surface area to prep food? By constraining your search to what you need it for instead of a specific "thing" like a table or dresser, that will simultaneously limit the kinds of pieces that will work while opening up other opportunities.

An antique washstand can be used as a kitchen island when you decorate with antiques
Wouldn't this make the best kitchen island in an industrial loft?

If you had just searched for an antique table with drawers, you might have missed an antique washstand with a lid that hides the linens and works as a prep space, but also brings in the industrial vibe you were going for.

All-In Budget

While budget is important, I purposefully listed it last. Often times we have a number in our heads on how we value a specific thing, like a door. We are transactional creatures by nature. Since the cost of antique and salvage items vary widely, a good designer will help you see beyond the initial cost of an antique door and will give you a sense of the cost to strip and refinish it, the cost to hang it, the cost of the hardware to finish it, etc.

The devil can be in the details, and it's important to understand the total budget you are working within so your designer can get you the right piece for your remodel.


Want to chat about adding antiques to your home design? Contact me and we can chat about what you are looking for!

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