Humans have an affinity for history. We appreciate things that have stood the test of time, so many of us gravitate toward antique home furnishings. There’s some confusion over what is “antique” and what is “vintage.” Both can be incorporated into home design no matter what your style is. Finding the right piece can be tricky, and be sure to establish the provenance of an antique before shelling out a big wad of cash.
Let’s clear up some vocabulary issues and then look at ways to use antique pieces.
Antique, vintage, and retro
Age is the defining factor to determine where an item fits into the antique or vintage category. Antique is usually something that is 100 years old or older. A vintage item is between 20 and 50 years old, and it reflects the styles and trends of that time period. Flapper dresses, long strings of beads, platform shoes, and bolero jackets would be considered vintage.
Vintage furniture usually reflects some sort of craftsman touch — meaning hand tools like planers, multiple kinds of wood, and dovetailing. Dovetailing is a way of joining furniture pieces together by notching and sometimes using pegs — not nails or glue.
Vintage and antique furniture is seldom symmetrical because it was constructed by humans, not machines.
And then there’s retro. Retro items are from the recent past, like the ’70s and ’80s. Some call it bad fashion choices coming back as trendy, like velour bell bottoms.
Let’s go shopping
Here’s where to look. First, and obviously, antique stores. If you are going to an antique store, have a plan to buy a specific product with a sort of budget established in your head. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering around and buying whatever looks good and not necessarily getting exactly what you want. Remember, items turn over at antique stores. If exactly what you want is not there, talk to the clerks about what you are looking for. They may have insights on estate items coming in that will be what you want.
Vintage and antique items can be found at: Secondhand stores, rummage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, moving sales, consignment stores, and online forums. Some really good finds at a decent price are often at estate and moving sales. Sure, there will be some pricey items, but the idea behind those sales is ultimately getting rid of stuff.
Another good place to look is large used-item sales held by churches or nonprofits. There is usually a lot of material to go through, and it’s all in one place.
Don’t buy something because it’s trendy. Sure, vintage mason jars are trending, but what are you going to do with six trendy mason jars?
You’ve got your antique or vintage piece, and how exactly do you meld that into the decorating plan?
If it’s a big statement piece, like a sideboard or farmhouse table, use it as the focal point. The sideboard will be put against the wall in the dining room or family room, and the rest of the room will mesh together. Accent pieces in the color scheme you are using will help tie it in. For example, if sage green is in the couch and the carpeting, get sage green candles for a candelabra on the sideboard or put a sage green runner on it.
Use the farmhouse table in the kitchen or dining room.
Mixing and matching styles without going overboard adds interest to a room. Pay attention to scale and proportion. A huge, overstuffed chair in a tiny foyer is going to look out of place. Putting that vintage chair in the bedroom with a small table and lamp next to it, it’s going to look nice!
Match profiles. Curvy, antique, or vintage chairs will play nicely with a modern couch that has rounded sides and edges.
And now, a word about color palettes. Most vintage and antique furniture has a reddish hue. Trying to match wood tones to that isn’t going to go well. Instead, opt for natural or lighter woods and neutral furnishings to offset the red.
One person’s hoarding is another’s collection. If you’ve collected a dozen vintage and antique perfume bottles, put them on a tray and put it on the bathroom vanity or on your dresser. Hang up those antique plates on a rack in the kitchen. Put your vintage hat collection on a coat rack in the foyer.
Finally, it’s your home and your style. If you bought something because you absolutely love and it doesn’t go with anything, just own it. Put that side table with the carousel carved animals on it as a base in the living room with a nice lamp on it and love it. Perhaps save the vintage lamp with the curved monkey holding up the shade for another room. Love that, too.
If you need further inspiration, check out some great retro kitchen decor ideas.
- Vintage decor inspo for your next redecorating project
- Tips for finding authentic and adorable vintage decor pieces for every room
- How to design a vintage bathroom in a small space
- Ways to decorate an odd-shaped living room that make sense
- Modern vs. traditional furniture: How to choose