7 ways designers decorate with antiques to create homes that feel exactly right for now

Being able to decorate with antiques means creating a home that feels richly layered and personal. Top designers explain how

modern bathroom with green tiles marble floor and art on the walls
(Image credit: Simon Brown - design by Beata Heuman)

The thought of decorating with antiques can sometimes conjure images of stuffy collectables, of traditional tastes and big budgets. However the reality is, happily, quite different. Incorporating these unique pieces into your home has never been more accessible, in fact. There are a myriad of ways to source those one-off gems, from having a good rummage at a yard sale, to taking the hassle out of sourcing something and buying through an Instagram antique dealer, and everything in between. 

Getting inspiration for how to go about incorporating antiques into a modern home is also abundant, with lots of the best interior designers choosing to blend the old and the new to create something truly special with their designs. Here, some of the finest expert tastemakers share why they incorporate antiques into their projects, and why doing so has become one of the biggest interior design trends.

How to decorate with antiques

1. Mix dark woods into bright spaces

sunroom with indoor plants and dark wood furniture

(Image credit: Leanne Kilroy/Good Bones)

Many pieces that have stood the test of time were made in wood, and were with either dark to start with or have darkened over time. As the obsession with the blonde shades seen in Scandinavian design has taken over, historic walnut shades fell totally out of favor.

But there is a way to include them in a modern home and not have them feel dark and heavy - and that's by including them in the brightest parts of the house. 

Here, Leanne Kilroy of the much loved instagram account Good Bones has incorporated antiques into her sunroom, the character of the table and bench providing a direct - and quite wonderful - contrast to the lightness of the space. 

‘I grew up in a house full of antiques - my dad had an antiques shop for 40 years - so they feel like home to me,' Leanne says. 'Antiques have many stories to tell, often being much better made than today’s mass produced furniture. Antiques are my favorite way to provide a space with not only function and beauty but personality and soul as well.’

2. Match the colors of antiques to modern pieces

pink bedroom with built in storage

(Image credit: Folie Chambre )

You don't get a much more modern bedroom than one that has diamond-shaped rattan cut aways in its built in storage. But what Natalie Tillison of design studio Folie Chambre has done here is match the color of the rattan panels and the chest of drawers with the honeyed tones of the antique ceiling light, creating a scheme that feels layered, with its mix of eras, but still cohesive.

“Using antiques, vintage furniture and furnishings is fundamental to my interior design,” Natalie says. “They bring warmth, history, and grounding to interiors. They give homes soul, add interest and are often unique or rarer pieces. Vintage furniture has a practicality to it too. Pieces were built to last and have often survived a few homes before you. They’ve already suffered their first bumps and dents and so are perfect in a family or busy home where you can relax without feeling too precious.”

3. Blend design classics with local finds

small white living room with brown sofa and rattan furniture

(Image credit: Joachim Wickmann - design by Pernille Lind Studio)

Pernille Lind, the interior designer behind this beautiful living room, talks about how as a Dane the idea of inheriting well-made pieces is just part of the culture. ‘For me it’s not about ticking a box, it’s part of my heritage and I always encourage my clients to reuse furniture they have, or dig out any interesting personal items, whether it be family photos, artwork or collectables, that can be featured in a new 'light' in their homes. Of course not all have pieces they would like to keep or that are particularly special to them, and therefore we source antiques that can add character and intrigue to the interiors, as they are often unique one-offs.’

This space sums up eclectic style perfectly - a well curated blend of found and treasured objects. 'For this project we sourced antiques locally in the nearby villages and towns,' Pernille says. 'In this picture there is an original paper Le Klint pendant and 1950’s brass floor lamp and an old vessel. The picture on the wall is one our client had found in a local shop, picturing coral reef, referencing the locality of being on the beach.’

4. Use antiques in functional spaces

modern bathroom with green tiles marble floor and art on the walls

(Image credit: Simon Brown - design by Beata Heuman)

There are certain things a modern bathroom needs to have  in order to make it function. But around the basin and the shower it's actually the perfect spot to layer in antiques, creating a haven that feels like it's full of personality to soak in while you soak in the tub. 

One interior designer that is an expert in this multi-dimensional layering of rooms is Beata Heuman. ‘When you take inspiration from the past, the amalgamation of the various points of reference will create something new,' she explains. 'The soul will lie in the unique combination that you put together.’

5. Hang antique art in a playroom

playroom with wicker chair

(Image credit: Emma Ainscough)

There is something truly unique about every piece of antique furniture (no matter the price or the value). They already have a history and a story that is just their own. And adding tales and wonder into a playroom is the ultimate goal of decor for this space so - perhaps counterintuitively - antiques and a nursey go hand in hand.

But while antiques tend to feel a little more precious than modern pieces, it may feel safer to stick to artwork, as the interior designer Emma Ainscough has done here.  'They bring a sense of history, character and story telling, which are all so valuable in creating that sense of ‘home’,' Emma says.

That said, she has also included an antique wicker chair, found at a vintage market. A piece which adds character and - crucially for this sort of space - is wipe clean.

6. Borrow styling ideas from the past

dining room with patterned curtains

(Image credit: Cote de Folk)

In this modern family home, designer Sophie Rowell from Côte De Folk has borrowed the idea of a Victorian parlour for her dining room.  An antique chandelier hangs over a Tulip dining table on a jute rug - a traditional set up made modern by the choice of materials on the table and rug. 

The anqtiue corner cabinet offers the function of a Victorian dresser. 'The corner cabinet in this project is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever sourced,' Sophie says. 'Corner cabinets are the perfect storage solution as they don’t take up much wall space, I add them in my projects a lot.’

7. Add gravitas to soft colors

patterned living room with floral curtains

(Image credit: Laura Stephenson)

Laura Stephenson, an interior designer, shares why she loves it when clients also get excited about using antiques in their homes. ‘Antiques add a layer of age and patina which new pieces, including ‘faux’ antiques simply can’t,' she says. 'Antique pieces make a home unique, even a little antique chair or stool can personalise a space.'

Having used an on trend sandy yellow on the walls, this room takes on a lot more depth thanks to the wonderful cabinet. 'I find antiques all over the place but this beautiful Gustavian cabinet was sourced in Sweden,' Laura says. 'It really grounds the whole room and adds gravitas and yet it is so pretty and delicate too.’

The best places to source antiques

1st Dibs

You'll find every item of furniture or lighting from every era in history on 1st Dibs. A wonderful repository, the only issue is narrowing your choices down. Among the very expensive pieces sit some more affordable finds, so the joy here is in the trawl.

Visit 1st Dibs (opens in new tab)

Vinterior

The focus here tends to be more on mid-century modern but that doesn't mean there isn't something to suit every style. The vases, for example, range from chinoiserie to 1980s organic shapes.

Visit Vinterior (opens in new tab)

Etsy

Yes, really. It's not just clever craft projects here but Etsy is also home to smaller antiques dealers who have amazing eyes and ability to source.

Visit Etsy (opens in new tab)

Charlotte Alldis started her interiors Instagram account Thrifted Abode nearly five years ago. Since then she has renovated two properties and has been passionately learning about interior design along the way.  She has just launched her interior design consultancy whilst also continuing to work as a Marketing Director for a hotel. Her work as a marketeer over the last decade has given her great foundations to appreciate good aesthetic design and the power of fantastic photography. She is beyond excited to finally kick start her interior design business.