Repurposing Vintage Treasures and Mixing with Modern Pieces

Reader Contribution by Stephanie Nickolson
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Stephanie Nickolson has designed residential, commercial and eco-conscious environments for more than 24 years. Her firm, Stephanie Nickolson Design, promotes the use of sustainable, non-toxic, recyclable and environmentally-friendly products and services. The firm works largely with clients who have allergies, chemical sensitivies or who have children with special needs.

Gone are the days when I longed to present my home to guests filled with everything bright, shiny and new. Aside from my design aesthetic changing, along came two children and a dog, and I finally came to terms about the practicality of actually living in a home and making it comfortable. I no longer gasp when I nick my kitchen table or the dog adds a new scratch to my wood floors. My taste is now an eclectic blend of vintage and new; the juxtapositioning of a distressed accent piece of furniture with a shiny new glass vase. 

A distressed antique table with some plants and modern accessories. Photo by Stephanie Nickolson Design.

My neglected exterior projects went by the wayside as my kitchen renovation took precedence. I now will happily embellish my paint-peeled deck with some fabulous terra cotta pots accented with bright colors and a plethora of pretty flowers. I will get around to having that railing repainted, but I’m not going to lament over it for now.

Beautiful potted flowers are my focal point, not the neglected, paint-peeling deck railing. Photo by Stephanie Nickolson Design.

It’s about highlighting the positives and small details that make you happy and not worrying about having a spotless, perfect home.

New plants breathe life into a space that may otherwise seem dreary. The simple idea of incorporating plants and flowers into your home, gives life to a space, whether it be contemporary, vintage or a mix of the two. Not only do some plants clean the air, they help create balance between old and new, adding to the nuance of it all.

Here, a vintage chair, one of my flea market finds, adds to the style of the vintage stacking tables, antique buffet in the background and brought to life with plants. 

A flea market-find chair pairs well with vintage stacking tables. Plants bring life to it all. Photo by Stephanie Nickolson Design.

Going to local flea and antique markets is great for that one-on-one personal interaction with the dealers. You can run your fingers through fabrics, textures and see true colors. If you don’t have any in your area, here are some awesome sites that you can browse on the web to find the exact piece that you’re looking for:

• Vintage Modern: Brooklyn-based store

1st Dibs: Very popular site among designers; has buyers from around the world

Modern 50: Sterling, Virginia-based; a bit pricey on some items, but has difficult-to-find pieces.

Salvage One: Chicago-based; has a huge selection of architectural pieces as well as furniture

Century Modern: Dallas-based; has a lot of mid-century modern furniture; Herman Miller, Heywood Wakefield, etc.

Architectural Artifacts: Chicago-based; has many historical pieces rescued from old buildings.

The Good Mod: Portland-based; has vintage furniture from the 1920s to 1970s.

An antique French faux bamboo wash stand. Photo By Flickr.

I love the above image; it’s an antique French faux bamboo wash stand with Farrow & Ball’s Radicio Red undercoat and black painted top. It’s heavily distressed with a clear wax finish. I would place a small contemporary framed piece of art in this room and arrange a small bouquet of flowers to place on top of the stand.

Some Decor Ideas using this type of juxtapositioning:

1. Accessorize an antique accent table with varying-sized contemporary mirrored picture frames, or place some modern, colored glass figurines or candle stick holders on it.

2. Frame a traditional or vintage piece of art with a contemporary frame or bold fabric matting, or vice versa, adorn a contemporary work with a distressed or heavily carved or metallic guilded frame.

3. In the garden or outside, intermix an antique wrought iron table set or bench with contemporary laterns that house candles.

4. Mix it up; do what you love in your own space. It doesn’t have to “go together” or be approved by others. (Even by your interior designer!)

5. Search for some vintage tiles at a flea market or at one of the antique dealers listed above and incorporate them into a modern backsplash in the kitchen or accent wall in the bathroom.

So, next time I enter my house, I won’t cringe when I see my boys with their feet up on the cocktail table. I won’t hold my breath when I see my dog with the neighbor’s dog running around my house, and I won’t think twice about fixing or replacing that missing knob on my antique buffet. I’ll exhale and breathe a bit easier with my new plants, adding life and cleaning the air in my house.