Marrying contemporary with antique furniture

There are no particular rules to follow when it comes to successfully mixing contemporary and antique furniture, and it largely comes down to the Interior Architecture of the building, and the types of pieces being chosen to fill it, but there are a few faint guidelines that tend to steer a project in the right direction of eclectic chic rather than a jumble of chaos.

Firstly it’s important to distinguish ‘Modern’ from ‘Contemporary’.  Modernism was an era in Design, beginning late in the 19th Century and concluding in the middle of the 20th Century.  The connotations associated with the word ‘modern’ mean that it is often misused when describing a piece of furniture, light fitting or decorative accessory with clean lines, materials such as glass or metal, and a minimalistic design.  Contemporary simply means, of the present time.

Very rarely will our clients come to us with a completely clean slate to fill, there will always be a couple of heirloom pieces of furniture or an Art collection to consider and account for when scheming their homes, and after so many years practice I’d like to think we do a pretty good job of integrating these existing pieces into what will be their new home.

In Residential Design, the main objective is to create a functional and comfortable space that the users feel relaxed and at home in.  A home has so many different uses, it’s the place where you retreat to when you’re feeling under the weather, it’s your venue for hosting and entertaining friends, it’s where you make some of your most important family memories but most of all it’s your private and personal space away from the rest of the world when you just need time to be.  By combining a mixture of antiques or traditional and contemporary pieces it creates visual interest, and layers of different textures and materials form a ‘complete’ interior, whilst showcasing the owners’ personality and taste as well as sometimes their history or heritage.

Here in this cottage on the coast we designed, is a good example of how an Antique piece brings warmth and interest into a light and bright interior full of contemporary detail.  Now imagine how different this room would look with a simple glass topped metal console.

Here in the Sitting Room of this beautiful Italian Villa, we chose the simple clean lines of a metal and glass coffee table, along with contemporary wooden side tables that echoed the dark finish, to provide a contrast to the light curved ceiling and intricate detailing of the chandelier and mirror, allowing these more decorative pieces to stand out and create more visual impact.

Again in the Italian villa, we kept the Kitchen units quite simple and understated, drawing the eye up to the decorative ceiling which is the star feature in this space, but the combination of 17th Century original features, and new contemporary furniture doesn’t feel jarring, it’s functional but beautiful, and most importantly it feels inviting and usable, which is not always the case in buildings of such rich historical value like this one.


A Winchester townhouse that we installed in 2016 was one of our most eclectic projects in recent years, and an absolute delight to work with the client on.  Their tastes are quite bohemian but they like traditional shapes and are big fans of colour, so by introducing contemporary prints on some of the fabrics and choosing simple block base table lamps, mixed with the more traditional damask wallpaper and a gilt framed mirror, it created a sumptuous and inviting room that the whole family can enjoy and feel comfortable in.


A few simple practices to consider when pulling together a scheme, are;

  • Keep metal finishes the same or a close variation of. Chrome does not mix well with brass, but brass could be teamed with dark aged bronze, and chrome works well with platinum.  Black generally goes with everything!
  • Mix materials. If you have a plastic ghost chair you really want to use for your desk, team it with a wooden desk as a contrasting texture, this will allow the pieces to stand out independently from each other but still work in unison.  Try accessorising with a soft throw over the arm of the chair.
  • Layer up soft furnishing textures. There are so many options when it comes to fabrics, mix it up!  If you’re using some nice pale fresh linens for the window treatments in a kitchen, or upholstery on a banquette seat, think about throwing in some velvet as a trim to the window treatments or as some cushions to add richness and depth.  Similarly, if you’re scheming a North facing Drawing Room and you have lots of heavy wools and velvets going on, add in some lighter cottons or textured weaves to create balance.
  • Antique rugs generally work well anywhere, it’s really down to the colours and pattern in the rug that will pull a whole room together.
  • Don’t be tempted to paint Antique furniture an off white or pastel colour just so it’ll fit in with a pale room, if it has a dark finish and you’re really not happy with it, try sanding it back to its natural finish. An old wooden armoire with glass doors looks magnificent in a contemporary bathroom stacked with fresh white linens.
  • Accessorise with a few old interesting finds. Too many decorative accessories can look over styled and quite messy, but a few carefully chosen pieces dotted around the place can create a ‘lived in’ look without looking cluttered.
  • Mix up your lighting. Traditional fittings look amazing teamed with more contemporary fittings and it doesn’t generally matter which way round you style it – you could go for a hugely ornate traditional chandelier and partner this with a few sleek contemporary table lamps, or you could source a very contemporary light fitting for the ceiling and combine this with Antique table lamps or wall lights with more contemporary shades.
  • Don’t be afraid to choose antiques from different periods, just because you have a Victorian townhouse, doesn’t mean all of your key pieces of furniture should be from that era.
  • Try something different. Remember there are no rules, go with your instinct and be brave!



Jenny Quinlan

Senior Designer

Dunning & Everard Ltd