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  • Writer's pictureGina Gaurisas-Wilson

Mixing old and contemporary furniture | A rewarding challenge

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Antique coffee table with a contemporary sofa

Illustration: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

There is a pleasantness and charm in mixing old and contemporary furniture. It makes spaces interesting, dynamic, and definitely unique.

To get the combination right and keep the space in harmony, there are important do’s and don’ts in the selection and arrangement of the pieces.

How pieces relate to each other and to the space they are in matters.

First, the space:

For Barry Sullivan, Senior Director Global Design Services, Luxury & Lifestyle at Hilton “a contemporary setting can provide a dramatic setting for a significant antique in an important location. An antique table across from an entry, an impressive cabinet in the line of sight at the end of a corridor or even a period dining table could be even more dramatic with the right lighting in a contemporary setting”.

Old chair with a modern desk

Illustration: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

Then, the mix:

A few tips on how to mix old and contemporary furniture will be handy if you are contemplating keeping Grandmother’s Victorian sofa or Uncle Bob’s roll-top desk, neither compatible with your decor. Even when the furniture pieces are all different, it is advisable to find a commonality that ties them together—it might be color, finish, scale, shape, materials, details, etc. On the other hand, sometimes the contrast of old furniture with contemporary or modern pieces is what is called for.

Old chair in a contemporary bedroom

Design and photo: Erin Williamson Design

Mixing old and contemporary furniture in a room

Design and photo: Erin Williamson Design

Sullivan explains: “I feel furniture styles don’t necessarily need to match, but they do have to speak from a thoughtful combination of styles that acknowledges a design ethos as a basis for their selection. Details such as sinuous curves, detailed carving, wood finish or hard angles all need to be considered when placed together so the design is thoughtfully eclectic and avoids the setting from becoming a hodge-podge of styles”.

To avoid common mistakes when mixing old and contemporary furniture, Sullivan suggests “there needs to be a thoughtful evaluation of fabrics (color, texture, pattern, feel), wood finishes and styles to ensure a successful room”.

Fabrics and wood finishes

Photo: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

If you don’t feel confident in making your Grandmother’s arm chair fit with your contemporary desk, a good option would be to seek the advice of an interior designer to make the mix harmonious. Figuring out how to incorporate your old piece, with all the stories behind it, can give your room a distinctive authenticity. You’ll have something worth talking about.

Antique arm chair with a contemporary desk

Design and photo: Erin Williamson Design

The visual quality, charm, character, and history of old furniture make it very worthwhile to find a way to keep it. It can look fabulous whether it’s kept in its original condition, refinished, or completely transformed to fit your current needs and style—see examples of transformation.

Thanks for reading.

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