How to Style Antique and Vintage Furnishings

Top designers reveal their secrets to crafting a space with character.

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Carter Berg

Incorporating vintage and antique furnishings into a design often means parsing together objects from aesthetic movements that are decades or centuries apart—or, if the pieces belong to the same period, designers must ensure that the style of the space does not seem stale or derivative. We asked several designers for advice on thoughtfully sourcing and styling with vintage and antique objects to craft spaces that are both referential and original. Explore their thoughts here.

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“Buy items you truly love and you can't make many mistakes.” — Claire Staszak
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Dustin Halleck

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: a vintage brass Sarreid coffee table and a pair of Alky Chairs by Giancarlo Piretti for Castelli.

Styling Process: "I look for weird, wonderful, and unique objects and furniture. It's lovely if they come with a brand name or historical significance, but that's not always necessary. It's really about if it will look right in your design. Buy items you truly love and you can't make many mistakes. My advice for styling is, mix and match—it's so much more interesting! But don't go overboard."

“Create a room that speaks to today.” — Benjamin Johnston
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Julie Soefer

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: an antique Venini chandelier worth ten times more than the price.

Styling Process: "Mix, mix, mix. Don’t recreate a room from the past. Create a room that speaks to today by mixing in both contemporary and vintage pieces. It’s exciting to give an antique new life or to present it in a new and interesting way. And they work amazingly well in contemporary spaces–especially when paired with contemporary artwork. And finally, have a little fun with the design!"

“There are some eras that naturally go together, and others that feel like they compete.” — Jen Talbot
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Dustin Halleck

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: a mauve mohair Baker sofa from the 70’s and an 80’s headboard.

Styling Process: "I look for interesting profiles—pieces that are well made and classic examples of the era, or a piece that is overlooked because it has such bad fabric and needs a bit of vision and love to bring it back to life. Never purchase something with structural issues—wood is harder to reconstruct. In a room, I typically like to keep in a similar era range, such as 70s and 80s. There are some eras that naturally go together and others that feel like they compete."

“Choosing the right antique is more alchemy than science.” — Maria Haidamus
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Paul Dyer

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: "I find the most uniques pieces in the most unexpected parts of the world."

Styling Process: "I find that choosing the right antique is more alchemy than science. I think it is great to mix and match periods, shapes, forms, and color as long as the rules of scale and proportions are respected. Make sure what you are buying is a true antique—work with dealers and reputable vendors you trust. Learn from them. They have lots of knowledge."

“Not all antique vendors are the same.” — Maureen Stevens
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Lauren Logan

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: Arne Norell safari chairs, a 19th-century chandelier, and a large gilt mirror from a New York City hotel.

Styling Process: "I always think of different things when vintage and antique shopping—the scale, style and feel, color palette, uniqueness of the item, and depending on the client, the price, of course. Not all antique vendors are the same—you want to buy from seasoned dealers and from the ones that are vetted to ensure you are getting the real deal."

“Know your sources and do your homework.” — Martin Young
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Matthew Millman

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: 1960s vases with a blue volcanic glaze and an antique handpainted fabric screen.

Styling Process: "I look for the aesthetic appropriateness to a specific project and client, a sense of timelessness, a sense of soul, and the condition of the item. I tend to prioritize silhouette, texture, material, and scale over the period of an item. The result is a layering of periods and cohesion of tangible details–the basis of a contemporary approach. Know your sources and do your homework! It is important to work with a trusted network."

“Using antiques adds an extra layer of personality and character.” — Liliane Hart
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Carter Berg

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: a bibliotheque from a furniture fair in London.

Styling Process: "Using antiques adds an extra layer of personality and character to a successfully decorated room. I love when I find large pieces of furniture that complete a wall. It’s very satisfying. When you use too many pieces of a certain era, one can create a historic interior. Some houses call for a certain period; for example, a northeastern shingle house on the coast looks great with turn-of-the-century furnishings. Conversely, I am not a fan of too many styles of antiques in one room."

"It's a mistake to include pieces that are not compelling in some way." — Angela Free
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R. Brad Knipstein

Design Firm:

Favorite Vintage/Antique Finds: a pair of Biedermeier chests.

Styling Process: "Sometimes we are looking for stunning period pieces that are beautifully and expertly preserved, and other times, items without a lot of age that are quirkier with character might be just right. It's a mistake to include pieces that are not compelling in some way, and to assume that for an item to be compelling it must be costly. Period rooms are great for museums. In my work, we never do period rooms–period! Nothing feels more stale and lifeless–static spaces just don’t interest me."

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