6 ways I style antiques to create a homey but elegant feel

Antiques are a sustainable way to buy furniture, and there are clever ways to style them for a modern home, as interior designer Birdie Fortescue explains

Victorian walnut leather armchair, rectangular Kelim covered ottoman
(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

With our collective nesting instincts honed by the pandemic, spartan, White Cube-esque spaces no longer suit most of our needs. Homely interiors with warmth and charm are back in force, and what better way to get the look than with the rich patina of antiques? 

Incorporating and decorating with antiques in your home is also one of the most sustainable ways to shop. Not only is exceptional craftsmanship guaranteed, but so is timeless style to last many lifetimes. 

Interior Designer
Birdie Fortescue
Interior Designer
Birdie Fortescue

Birdie’s creative journey started when she worked at Percy Bass, an interiors shop and design service on Walton Street.  Birdie then went on to join Imogen Taylor’s team at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler’s old premises in Mayfair. Many buying trips later and with a decorative antiques course from the V&A Museum under her belt, Birdie decided to set up her own antiques business.  Establishing the business in Norfolk in 2014, Birdie initially focused on sourcing homeware from Scandinavia, pieces that weren’t easily found in the UK, before creating her own designs. From block-printed fabrics to unusual table lamps Birdie’s discerning eye enables her to create unique designs that sit comfortably alongside the antiques and contemporary art sourced from artists both local and further afield.

1. Style antiques against a backdrop of color

White and blue squared rug, round wooden table, stone fireplace

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

Antique furniture is finally making a comeback and bringing with it the intrigue of the heyday of country house living. Rich mahogany, textural rosewood and soft walnut are all perfect bedfellows for the bolder colors that are dominating the interiors scene. 

The much-loved jewel toned walls of Georgian architect Sir John Soane are popping up in modern interiors in both the city and the country, alongside softer earthy pinks and warm naturals. This new palette not only provides the perfect backdrop for antiques, but also represents a better understanding of the ways we are impacted by our home environments. 

One of Farrow & Ball’s top five colors for 2022 is an unflinchingly cheerful yellow, which is particularly timely in light of the proven connection between the colors we surround ourselves with and our moods. It turns out that clinical whites and ash greys do not make for a happy home (surprise, surprise).

2. Don't be afraid to be eclectic

White chairs with blue cushions, round dining table, green and pink candles

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

The new outlook of styling with antiques is all about embracing character in order to achieve an overall scheme that brings pieces together from a variety of eras and styles. 

A 19th Century bench might sit below an abstract painting or a polished mahogany bureau could be styled alongside a contemporary coffee table. The idea is to use each item’s unique qualities to create a pleasing look that’s rich in narrative and personality. 

And this narrative needn’t be confined to home turf. As the world continues to re-open, global influences are being used in bolder ways than ever. African textiles, Indian rugs and Chinese ceramics are being paired with modernist sculpture, contemporary photography and sharp, bespoke details for edgy eclecticism. 

Think the Grand Tours of the 18th-19th centuries but with a grand millennial makeover.

3. Ensure your rooms feel homey

Victorian walnut leather armchair, rectangular Kelim covered ottoman

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

Modern interiors call for a modern approach to decoration which is fresher, more relaxed and homey than in previous decades. Crucially, after the explosion of social media-driven fast homewares, this freshness is starting to look more grown up, with a greater conscience and sense of responsibility. 

Using antiques as the backbone of a scheme means that fewer new items are required for embellishment. Needing less newness gives greater scope for investment in better, higher quality pieces with trans-seasonal longevity. 

4. Personalize with texture and accessories

Grey sofa and kitchen island with wooden top

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

Style antiques by contrasting the warmth of aged patinas with textiles and soft furnishings with plenty of eclectic decorative pieces. 

Textural rugs, statement cushions and embroidered throws will all hold their own in a scheme filled with characterful furniture. Adding unexpected touches and light-hearted accessories will keep the finished look firmly in the present day. 

Crisp, contemporary glass, minimalist metal and on-trend shapes (yes there is a place for bobbins, bobbles and scallops) can all be used to introduce a touch of effervescence or humor, depending on the setting. 

The art of the mix requires a light touch and witticism. A fossilised crab or taxidermy pufferfish might not seem like the most obvious of finishing touches, but true eclecticism is rooted in personality so think character by the bucketload.

5. Contrast antiques with new pieces

Gold famed mirror, wooden side table, green lamp

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

Mixing antique prints with contemporary art is a great way to keep a scheme updated and on trend. 

Aim to create bold pairings that break the mould – small scale checks with intricate Chinoiserie, bold geometrics with traditional damask or contemporary embroidery against gilt and inlay. 

Occasional clever combinations will elevate your look further. In this drawing room the rug and armchair share almost exactly the same trellis design but in different styles and scales. 

Don’t forget that antique furniture is often surprisingly versatile with pieces lending themselves many different uses in a modern environment. If you need a small desk that’s chic enough to use as a console table in a drawing room, try using a games table. Equally, a 19th century bench could work very well when looking for seating in a narrow hallway.

6. Complement antiques with modern textiles

White carpet with blue tulip design, mahogany dining table

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

As coziness looks set to stick around for a while we can finally start appreciating pieces again for their individual merits. Gone are the days of buildings filled with movement-based monocultures as we welcome a new era for antiques in the home. 

These rooms were created in collaboration with Cheffins (opens in new tab). The house itself dates from the early 19th Century and is very well proportioned although not overly large. This meant that the arrangements we curated could quite easily be replicated in a range of home settings. 

The furniture we chose from the upcoming sale was very much in the spirit of the existing interiors but in a different vein to our own items. Much of the furniture here already is French and is a mix of polished and painted so it was easy to slot in the new pieces and create some interesting juxtapositions. 

Working with lots of brown furniture was a great opportunity to show just how versatile it can be when styled with contemporary soft furnishings and accessories. Our Loire collection, new for spring/summer, was the perfect balance to bring a fresh take on antiques for today’s taste. Styling with our contemporary textiles and lighting enabled me to curate a series of spaces that feels timeless, yet fun and original.

All antiques featured in this article are available to purchase at the Cheffins Fine Art Sale (opens in new tab), 22nd – 23rd June.