Mix and Match
Incorporating art and antiques with style and panache
How can I incorporate my grandmother’s late 19th century dresser into my master bedroom design? Where do I hang her beloved collection of still-life oil paintings from that famous artist I don’t particularly like? Can I buy that marvelous midcentury dining set from the consignment store when I own nothing else of the sort? A lot of homeowners struggle with questions of when and how to incorporate antiques, vintage items and art into their homes. Statement pieces can introduce home design challenges whether they have only sentimental value or they’re new favorites. Sometimes it’s hard to know when the room should revolve around the piece or when the piece should revolve around the room.
From store owners and interior designers to interior designers with their own stores, lots of local experts have ideas about how to achieve the perfect room design while incorporating pieces that may differ from your other stock of furniture and art. There are, of course, some no-nos as well. According to Michiel Dop, owner of Dop Antiques and importer of European antiques, the mix of modern and antique can give a home an eclectic look that often works quite well. However, Dop advises against cluttering your rooms with too many pieces, and that’s where designers come in handy. He also advises against mixing certain styles.
“I would not have midcentury modern pieces mixed with Rococo in the same room for example,” says Dop. The minimalist approach and straight lines of a white 1950s sideboard paired with the elaborate ornamentation of a mahogany ribbonback chair from the 1700s would certainly be a striking duo. A room’s decor should not turn heads for the wrong reasons however.
In New Orleans, we’re fortunate to have several ways to shop for antiques and art, from enormous showrooms of importers like Dop to boutiques on Magazine and Royal to consignment stores like Renaissance Interiors, LLC. Larry Mann, co-owner of Renaissance Interiors, agrees with Dop that mixing contemporary furniture with carefully curated antiques can produce a visually intriguing home style. For Mann and his customers, the search is the most fun part of the process.
“Our customers are unified in that they enjoy shopping and the challenge of mixing different items together to create a unique home space,” says Mann.
With 17,000 square feet of store space, Renaissance Interiors specializes in fine consignment furnishings and home accessories including fine European antiques along with contemporary furnishings and accessories such as art, lamps, silver, china and collectibles.
At M.S. Rau Antiques, rare and important fine art and antiques are the focus, with pieces spanning from the 16th through the 21st century. M.S. Rau employs a team that also enjoys the hunt, and according to owner and CEO Bill Rau, they work tirelessly searching the world for one-of-a-kind rarities you can’t find anywhere else. Third-generation owner and published fine art expert, Rau believes the right work of art or antique can breathe new life into even the most modern living spaces.
“I’ve always believed that you should choose your art with your head and your heart, then your pocketbook,” he says. “You can never go wrong with decorating around a quality work of art or antique you truly love. In the end, you will be happier in the long-term with a much finer collection.”
Penny Francis, owner of Eclectic Home, agrees. As an interior designer with her own home furnishings boutique, Francis enjoys starting with a client’s art, noting that it’s important to see the scale, compositions, sizes, and feel, which can then inform color and patterns for a room. When it comes to mixing the old with the new, Francis says that the juxtaposition is the statement, adding to the interest and diversity of the design. Francis believes this makes the interior look more evolved, as if it were collected over time.
“We try to educate clients and show them updated looks on the classics,” says Francis. “For example, we just took a pair of antique wingback chairs and recovered them with a large-scale houndstooth fabric. Now they are modern. Modern finishes and materials can bring the pieces back to life.”
This trick is also a favorite of owner and designer Maria Barcelona of Maria Barcelona Interiors. She enjoys getting the most out of an upholstered antique frame by using a current fabric selection. Offering color planning, furniture purchasing and placement, rugs and custom draperies, Barcelona works hand in hand with clients during a building or renovation project. Currently, she finds herself drawn to the clean lines of Neoclassic and Regency periods that appeal to a more streamlined aesthetic and are easy to include in any design plan.
“We advise our clients to keep one or two key pieces as a statement,” says Barcelona. “We try to steer clients away from overdoing it with entire rooms filled with antiques, as this takes away from one or two making a statement in the room.”
As interior designer Villa Vicci owner Vikki Leftwich stresses, the antiques you decide to keep or purchase should provide function in addition to their “wow factor.”
“I do not believe in purchasing furniture just to fill up space, but I love using antique buffets or armoires for hiding unsightly mechanicals for televisions and sound systems and also antique chests for bedside tables,” she says.
Leftwich notes that midcentury modern vintage pieces are popular now, and she loves finding that one-of-a-kind bar, chair, or coffee table that can set a room apart, as well as serve as a utilitarian piece.
When purchasing an antique, it’s easy to choose for both design and functionality. But what do you do with the family heirlooms you’ve inherited?
“My favorite types of antiques to incorporate in a home are family pieces,” says interior designer Kristine Flynn, owner of Flynn Designs, LLC. Flynn loves the inherent story that goes along with an antique being used by numerous generations. “The only time I try to avoid antiques is when someone is keeping it simply because they feel too guilty to get rid of it. If the piece doesn’t speak to you, then you most likely won’t be happy with it being in your home.”
Kirsten Agnelly is a designer at Greige Home Interiors, a Covington-based store carrying upholstered furniture, accent furniture pieces, accessories, area rugs, lighting and antiques. She also loves incorporating antiques into a design, especially when they can be used as a focal point upon entering the room. Examples of these big-ticket items include antique beds or armoires.
“The time to be concerned about incorporating an antique piece into the design is when its functionality is no longer useful or safe; for instance, an old rocking chair that may break when someone sits in it,” says Agnelly.
Rooms should emit emotion, according to Beth Claybourn, owner of Beth Claybourn Interiors. Antiques and art play into that emotion, and the former can provide a historical appreciation of time and craftsmanship to any room. Claybourn recommends designing to the strength of the piece.
“The positioning of an antique in a rooms should allow you to appreciate its aesthetic value,” says Claybourn. “Antiques may be surrounded by antiques, but no one should be shy to position an antique as the centerpiece of a room surrounded by contemporary pieces or mixes and matching of styles.”
Claybourn recommends taking one of two approaches to art. Once you have a piece you love, you can either surround it with things that complement it, or you can contrast it as the focal point of the area. Allowing the art to set the tone helps you create an environment that is emotionally satisfying to you.
As an historical and cultural epicenter, New Orleans is not only a great place to find remarkable antiques and works of art, it’s also often their place of origin. As a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to sharing the history and culture of New Orleans and the region, The Historic New Orleans Collection collects objects that document the material culture of Louisiana history; a mix of French, Spanish, American and nascent Creole furniture, silver that represents New Orleans craftsmen, one of the largest collections of Newcomb pottery, and decorative arts and material culture related to Mardi Gras.
According to Lydia Blackmore, decorative arts curator, buying antiques is the ultimate green purchase; reducing waste and preserving materials, and the usefulness of antique furniture does not go out of style with age.
“The best way to preserve your old silver is to use it,” says Blackmore. “Regular use and cleaning (not in the dishwasher!) will keep your silver sparkling longer than locking it away in the silver chest.”
The same could be said for fine china.
“My favorite ways to incorporate historic decorative arts in my home design is to mix and match pieces of silver and china in a table setting,” she says. “The patterns don’t have to match; you can make a set based on common colors, gilt edges or floral embellishments.”
Take a look at your antiques and art with fresh eyes; renewed interest can lead to finding a lot of hidden potential lying in plain sight.