Decorating an older home can be a real challenge. Most of us don’t really want to live the way our ancestors did. The aim is to get the flavor of the era you wish to project without the discomfort and aggravation. Antique upholstery is not noted for its comfort. Antique beds tend to be too short for modern bodies and most of us prefer an inner spring or foam mattress to one stuffed with straw or horsehair. Although I have cooked on an iron wood stove and thoroughly enjoyed it in the depth of winter, there is nothing to recommend it in July. So where do you draw the line between authenticity and modern life?
Fortunately you can get modern upholstery, with modern foam, coil decks and cushions, in older styles and fabrics. Unless you are trying to get a museum room, it isn’t necessary to copy the original styles exactly. Be careful of proportions, but any upholstery piece which is a classic style will blend with antiques, or reproductions. Fabric choices can give an antique look and are available in reproduced patterns made from modern, low maintenance fabrics. If you have antiques, avoid the need to put matched pairs of everything. Our ancestors loved that balanced look and many of us still find that a comfortable look to live with, but if only your upholstered pieces match, they will draw attention away from your show pieces.
The exception, as always, is in a formal room. If you are living in a home from the 1700’s and want to get the flavor of the era, you will want more formalized seating patterns. However, the newer trend in historic houses is to have furniture from several eras from the original built date to represent. Our ancestors were thrifty. Furniture was hand produced and costly, so people didn’t tend to pitch pieces which were out of style. It wasn’t until mass produced, inexpensive furniture became widely available that people started dumping Grandma’s pine table in the chicken house, or slapped a coat of green paint on the solid cherry drop leaf and put it on the front porch.
Generally, keep your upholstered pieces subdued but try for the correct style (or a modified version) of the window treatments and case pieces. Wing chairs have been popular for 300 years, but make sure yours are comfortable to sit on before you decide you have to have them. Our ancestors had much better posture and liked sitting very straight. Classic styles of modern furniture keep the lines of the old, but have a better slant to the backs. The real effect of the room can be created by how you decorate your walls, floors and windows, and by using accessories creatively.
Decorators are divided about such modern adjuncts as kitchen appliances, TV’s and sound systems. My feeling is, good design blends with good design. Some of the newer appliances are beautifully designed and our ancestors would have made that stainless steel, side by side refrigerator with ice and water on the door, the showpiece of the house so I am not a big fan of attempting to hide large modern appliances behind wooden doors and cupboards. I do think they tend to look better in stainless or black but that’s a personal opinion. The exception to the kitchen appliance rule is for houses built in the last century when kitchen appliances were becoming common. Reproductions are available in the styles of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and can make a really clever kitchen which is fully functional.
My feeling about TV’s and sound systems is similar. If you don’t have a media room, there are hundreds of styles of armoires which will hide the TV and look like a piece of antique furniture. Choose carefully. They can be overwhelming. However, if you want the TV to sit out or hang on the wall, go for it. You can soften its stark modernity by the things you sit around it.
So when you decide to redecorate and give your home a more period feel, keep these things in mind.
Contributions for this article from ON THE GO 4 U design consultant, Suzanne Copenhaver who has years of experience decorating less than perfect spaces.