Interior designers reveal their top tips for incorporating antiques in the home.
Section by Somer Tejwani
Mixing antiques and modern furnishings isn’t a new trend—just think of how you combined your grandmother’s china teacups with the contemporary plates in your dinner collection or the knickknacks turned objects of art you’ve salvaged from flea markets and garage sales that sit on your living room book shelves. However, incorporating bigger, statement antique pieces in your modern home can seem daunting. Luckily, we’ve picked the brains of two local tastemakers that aren’t only adept at artfully integrating decor across decades—or even centuries—but also passionate about discovering unique finds.
“The goal is to have the antiques and the contemporary furniture look comfortable together and not like the odd couple,” Laguna Beach interior designer Michael Fullen says. One of the hardest first steps in combining antiques in your current decor scheme is understanding how to shop for them. Unlike modern furniture that can be sourced anywhere from a big-box retailer to a high-end showroom, antiques aren’t available on every corner. Plus, they are easily faked, overpriced and are known to have a less forgiving return policy. Michael says that when shopping for antiques, it’s important to buy from reputable dealers who have a strong knowledge of what they are selling—especially if pedigree is important to you. “Look for authenticity, a good finish and strong proportions,” he says.
Heather Lee, who with her husband Bobby owns Trove Gallery—filled with a carefully edited selection of romantic antiques and accessories—advises to do your research before you buy. “Take time to inspect a piece, especially the backside or underside of it,” she says. The extra time and attention paid to the piece’s details can inform a buyer of a crack in the furniture’s wood or a previous repair that wasn’t disclosed.
If you’re new to shopping for antiques, an easy place to start is with smaller pieces and slowly build up your collection; this will give you time to see how the antiques work with other furniture in your home. Michael recommends choosing a lamp, side table, occasional chair, clock or other great accessory as your first purchase. A modern cocktail table can be treated with a bevy of vintage fixtures that will give your guests something to pick up, admire and talk about. It may be even easier to start with an outside space in the garden, where you can integrate smaller-scale furniture like a bench, side table or decorative urn.
Heather advises only selecting items that complement each other. “If you have to force something to make it work, it’s better to walk away,” Heather says. “Pieces should feel at peace with each other no matter the decades or centuries spanned.”
As with any home decor purchase, the scale of the furniture is just as important when incorporating an antique in a modern-furnished home. For example, a dining room table with fine detailing and streamlined legs and proportions may not sit well with bulky chairs. “We are currently working on a home in Laguna Beach, and we have mixed art deco and midcentury with contemporary furnishings,” Michael adds. “To add a little extra interest, we purchased an antique English clock. It all mixes well because the scale and proportions are similar.”
The most important thing is to buy what appeals to your individual style. Heather says, “And just because something is 100 years old doesn’t mean it needs to be spendy. Bring home what touches you in some way.”
Contrast modern furniture with rustic, vintage finds for a visually interesting feel.
Laguna Beach is ripe with shops that boast handpicked antique, vintage, salvaged and other one-of-a-kind decor finds. For early access to the best picks, introduce yourself to the shop owner and create a partnership for sourcing the next perfect addition to your home.