May 19, 2024


Interior design: How to mix antiques into your home

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There are lots of reasons why even young people are buying old stuff. It’s environmentally and budget friendly and in an era of mass production, it allows you to add something unique to your home. 

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“What’s novelty for young people is a trip down memory lane for others,” says Allister McCrae, owner of Orono Antique Market, a multi-vendor market that offers antique furniture, Victorian and art glass, china, mid-century art, collectibles and more. 

Antique shoppers appreciate pieces that are made well, like a solid mahogany dresser that’s priced at a fraction of the cost of new. Many are looking for accent pieces. “There’s a story with most of the items here and we like to pass those stories along,” McCrae says. 

Incorporating some vintage pieces into modern interiors tends to result in a “more curated, thoughtful approach to design,” assures Bren Petrunick, creative founder of Simply White Interiors, a design firm based in Niagara on the Lake. 

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Older pieces balance the linear, minimalistic elements of modern design.
Older pieces balance the linear, minimalistic elements of modern design. Photo by Simply White Interiors photograph


“Whether they’ve been handed down, discovered at yard sales or collected during travels, antiques tell stories that become woven into the fabric of a home. Older items add subtle layers of texture, warmth and character into contemporary spaces that help balance the linear, minimalistic elements of modern design.”  

Keep a list of the pieces you’re looking for as well as dimensions of the area in which you’d like to place them, so you don’t needlessly buy something you don’t need. Don’t be deterred by dingy upholstery or minor scratches and blemishes. “It’s the bones of a piece that really determine its quality and fit for your space. Refurbishing and reupholstery work will only add value to the furniture.” 

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Petrunick is always on the lookout for high quality occasional tables and chairs because they have the most flexibility both in function and placement. “After being reupholstered in fresh fabric, a well-proportioned occasional chair will be the envy of any living room, but it can also steal the show in an office, nursey, bathroom or foyer,” she says.

Side tables are another favourite, but the designer admits a “show-stopping” buffet or hutch is the ultimate find. “Not only do these pieces offer additional storage and display space, but they also add character and charm to any room, and they can be painted, stained or simply given a good cleaning to complement the existing décor.” 

High-quality occasional tables and chairs offer flexibility in function and placement.
High-quality occasional tables and chairs offer flexibility in function and placement. Photo by Simply White Interiors photograph


Displaying collections is an artform. Several knickknacks scattered around a room or throughout a home can feel cluttered and overdone, but a carefully curated and displayed collection can provide a focal point and generates conversation, Petrunick advises. 

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Gallery walls are an impactful way to highlight a collection. “Displaying a grouping of vintage china, clocks, cutting boards, hats or hardware on a wall offers big visual impact. You can also use shelving, hutches and sideboards as another area to group and showcase your treasures.”  

If you want to refurbish an antique, hardware, finish and fabric are the first and most obvious places to focus your attention. “Sometimes, simply using a piece of furniture in a non-traditional way can bring the item back to life,” she says. 

“Dressers can be repurposed into vanities for an eye-catching update to a powder room or ensuite. Antique dry sinks make great bars and change tables, while hutches and china cabinets can be transformed into multiuse pieces such as a mail drop combined with a home office or study area.” 

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Orono Antique Market owner Allister McCrae.
Orono Antique Market owner Allister McCrae. Photo by Supplied


Pay attention to balance. “An overabundance of antiques can feel heavy, whereas just one or two pieces looks forced. I caution people against incorporating too many antiques that are simply for show and lacking in purpose or function in a room, as this can lead to an overwhelming, cluttered living space that doesn’t inspire rest and rejuvenation,” Petrunick says. 

Avoid tipping the design scale toward too much of a good thing. “Layering is the key to any space, and mixing old and new elements requires careful consideration so the end result is balanced.”

Because antiques are often made from wood, wicker, iron and leather, Patrunick recommends incorporating simpler, softer and lighter elements to offset their heaviness. “When a space is cluttered with colour and texture, nothing captures your attention and there is nowhere for the eye to rest. Ensure that for every element of focus, equal attention is paid to areas of visual white space or pause.”  

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Still, remember the first rule of design: there are no rules. “An over-designed space with a perfectly coordinated palette of colour is not for everyone,” says Petrunick. “So yes, you can mix wood grains, metals and finishes of all types to create a unique aesthetic that reflects the personality and style of the people who inhabit the space.”  

What to look for

Know what to look for when determining an antique’s condition and value. “A maker’s mark, which is a stamp, tag or label often found on the back of furniture or the bottom of drawers, will offer clues to the history and quality of the piece,” says Bren Petrunick of Simply White Interiors. “You can also look for details in the craftsmanship that signal a piece has been well made, such as dovetail drawers or spun legs.”

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Betsy Wentz Transforms an Old Stone Home into a Welcoming Abode Filled with Western Art and Antiques

“It was such a nice collaboration," says designer Betsy Wentz of her latest project in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t me just telling a client that this is how it should be.”

This was the third house that Wentz had done for the homeowners, and over the course of working together, their families became close—“our oldest sons are best friends," she reveals. In addition, her client “has amazing taste herself, and even a design degree. The family brought many pieces from their previous homes, including a large collection of antiques and “wonderful pieces to layer,” she notes.

They also had a good number of Western art and antiques, including a Chipperfield sofa, an original Remington, dishes from many generations, and “a 180-year-old trunk from someone’s grandfather," Wentz recalls. "You can’t just buy something like that.”

For this project—a large stone abode on the sixth hole of a golf course in the Heights—Wentz was able to “push her [client] to try things that she was nervous about, and to accept it when something was just how she wanted it”—for example, going for a more neutral, nature-driven color palette rather than Wentz’s usual “fun with color.” (To be sure, the traditional house still has some vivid accents.)

Now, she says, “When we go over for dinner, I think about how we figured it all out together. It’s parts of her and parts of me. The compromises were perfect.”

Tour the entire residence below.


2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

“I wanted a stripe, but she wanted something functional, clean, and natural,” says Wentz of the compromise that resulted in the brown sisal on the stairs. The client’s father’s Remington is solid and heavy. “I hope you like where it is,” Wentz recalls telling her client with a laugh.

Rug: vintage. Sculpture: Frederick Remington in solid bronze, “Coming Thru The Rye.” Chest: antique. Stair runner: Stark. Paint: White Dove, Benjamin Moore.

Living Room

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

She wanted it to be white,” says Wentz of her client. “We battled over this!” But soon a green plaid ottoman became a key piece in the room, and the rest evolved from there. The other challenge was that it had give openings—not a lot of long wall space for the piano or other wide furniture. The settee was from the client’s father, so it was important that they incorporate it, but solved the rest of the design puzzle with custom sofas covered in performance fabric to stand up to the family’s teenagers and dogs.

Sofas: private label custom, covered in JF fabrics. Rug: Stark. Settee: vintage Ralph Lauren. Ottoman: custom, covered in Harlequin fabric. Chandelier: Arteriors Home. Drapery: Harlequin. Drinks table: Andreu World. Sconces: Urban Electric. Trays: Made Goods. Saloon Painting: Jorge Braun Tarallo.


2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

“This room has so much character,” she says. “It became one of their favorite spaces.” It was a wood-paneled room, but Wentz made it pop with deep teal paint—a color that’s “warm, fun, and the right color to ground the space. She had to work in a “big old leather sofa” but added a new, animal print ottoman to make it modern.

Paint: Slate Teal, Benjamin Moore. Drapery: Clarke and Clarke. Rug: vintage. Ottoman: custom, covered in Thibaut animal print. Leather sofa: vintage, Four Hands.

Dining Room

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

Behind the kitchen, this space now serves as “the center of the house,” Wentz says. She added French doors for entertaining, making the space “lovely but functional.” Since she was working with existing furnishings, in order to make this room feel new, she started with the wall covering, choosing a metallic green grasscloth that allows the couple’s art to “jump off the wall.”

Wall covering: Kravet metallic grasscloth. Table: vintage, Wright Table Co. Dining chairs: vintage, D.R. Dimes. Sideboard: vintage. Art: B. Stephens. Sconces: Urban Electric.


2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

Enlarging the footprint of the kitchen was one of the biggest architectural revisions to the house. The zinc lighting fixtures above the new kitchen island were the same ones the designer and client had chosen for the dining room in a previous house, and how they decided to put an identical set in the kitchen. “It’s fun and looks great,” says Wentz.

Island pendants: Urban Electric zinc finish. Hood: The Metal Peddler. Counter stools: Four Hands. Runners: vintage. Table: Wooden Whale. Banquette cushions: custom, covered in Perennials fabric. Pillows: Villa Nova fabrics. Tile: Splash Showrooms.


2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

Wentz added color and play with a pink-and-red rug and a painting of the family’s dogs. “It’s truly a mudroom. The dogs go in and out all day. It shows how a fun but functional room can look great.”

Painting: Tom Mosser. Rugs: vintage. Basket: Pioneer Linens. Ceiling: Reclaimed wood. Bench: antique.

Primary Bedroom

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

This was “a large space with odd angles” beneath the vaulted ceilings, “but it turned out so fresh.” The textured wallpaper in a creamy white color warmed up the space.

Wallpaper: Elitis. Rug: Stark. Nightstand: Antique. Lamps: Arteriors Home. Drapery: Romo fabrics. Bedding: Pioneer Linens. Bench: covered in Schumacher fabric. Art: Porter Teleo.

Primary Bathroom

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

The floral wallpaper is a compromise that Wentz “had to work hard for," she reveals. "She had reservations, but I pushed her because I love how fun this is. And it has great light. I love the way it turned out.”

Wallpaper: Elitis. Cabinetry: custom.

Son's Bedroom

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

With the older son away at college, there’s one teenage boy living at home. His room was limiting, with an odd pitch to the ceiling. Wentz compensated by adding swing-arm sconces and a “fun rug” that complements the boy’s hockey memorabilia. “It’s a great example of how a teenager’s room can be beautiful and meaningful at the same time. You don’t have to shove everything into a drawer.”

Drapery: Nina Campbell. Rug: Stark.

Daughter's Bedroom

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

Wentz lets this simple room speak for itself, with its strong navy blue hue and floral bathroom.

Paint: New York State of Mind, Benjamin Moore. Rug: JF Kashanian. Chest: Anthropologie.

Backyard and Patio

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

"Out back is where they live," says Wentz, pointing out the effort that went into the centerpiece: the swimming pool. The house was built in 1952 by a steel executive, and he installed a pool made of—you guessed it—steel. It had to be removed by welders, and last year it was finally replaced by a more contemporary gunnite pool

2021 © nickolas sargent photography

Nickolas Sargent

The rest of the outdoor area is "such a pretty setting with its big fire pit—and highly functional," Wentz notes.

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