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Decorating with Antiques

As a dealer in antiques, naturally I am biased.  I love the pieces we bring into the gallery and there is a reason behind each and every acquisition.  We try to acquire pieces that:

  • tell a story about the people that came before us: the craftsmen, the interesting materials they used, the advancement of techniques and why they fell in love with certain forms and shapes; 
  • that have interesting and compelling surfaces, these essentially being a fingerprint containing bits of the history - who wrote on it, sat in it, damaged it, perhaps repaired it; 
  • and finally that have a specific usefulness and function in today's home

But it is highly unlikely that a client could furnish their entire home or even an entire room from our shop.  And from my experience, it as almost always a mistake to do so.  Our homes are a chance to story our own material culture and design a vignette of how we lived, what we valued, the ideas that influenced us, our taste and aesthetics and materials or colors that attract us.  I believe the most compelling interiors make an introduction.

As you think about how to design your room, here are some ideas for decorating with antiques:

1.  Take your time

Perhaps the most critical element is time.  A rushed interior feels plastic and devoid of life.  This doesn't mean rooms must be empty as you find the perfect pieces, but you should have a long-term mindset when selecting pieces.  Develop a good relationship with your local consignment shop so you can easily upgrade select pieces of furniture; that allows you to perhaps place an adequate pair of chairs in the room until you stumble upon the perfect pair and have them upholstered in your choice of fabric.  Or go ahead and place a mediocre colorful piece of "wall art" on the wall until you find and can afford a fine investment grade landscape painting.

2.  Prioritize comfort

The dining room is one of my favorite examples.  While a period dining table and chairs are a rare and fantastic find, they are not terribly enjoyable objects to live with.  My own preference is to find interesting reproduction dining chairs and table, but to focus your funds and searching on finding an exquisite sideboard or rich and unique corner cabinet to set the room apart.  Delicate selections of furniture can leave you feeling like you are living in a museum, so focus on function for pieces that will be used everyday and bring historical and aesthetic richness to the space with strike point pieces.

3.  Balance is Critical

For those of us that truly love antiques, we have a tendency to buy based on the item and not based on the function the item will have in a room.  It is a one-sided perspective that focuses on the rarity and beauty of a single object without balancing it against the whole, the space it will occupy.  The result:  a cluttered room.  In a cluttered room, all objects lose their importance and the room no longer feels decisive or intentional, but rather becomes a storage space for your accumulated treasures.  I am a big fan of the eclectic, mixing styles and periods, expressing individuality in a space: but eclectic does not equal random or chaotic.  Eight different chairs at the dining table is chaotic, not eclectic.  A living room with an English candle stand flanked by a Louis XVI style French chair and a Danish Modern arm chair is random, not eclectic.  Look to balance the room with matched pairs, similar patterns of fabric, harmony of angularity (think curvy legs vs. straight legs; square forms vs. demilune forms) and an appropriate balance of colors.

4.  Be Bold

When you select an antique piece for the room, make it count!  The object should be important, which does not necessarily mean expensive, but rather that it should have important placement in the room.  A large and powerful writing table can totally transform a study or office.  An unusual cocktail table will often make more of a difference to the room than the much larger sofa or group of chairs.  When having your antique chairs upholstered, consider picking a fabric that is vibrant and unexpected; they should pop!  If you have a boring metal and glass console table in the hallway, I would be more urgent about selecting a fine bronze sculpture to place on it versus selecting a new console for the space: a powerful piece of art displayed on something neutral can be very effective.  Or flank the console with a pair of Directoire chairs with rich old teal painted surfaces.

5.  Purity

There is a lot of material out there to select from and it is not difficult to find great pieces for your space.  So unless you are just looking for an interesting decorative object, we generally recommend you stay away from altered or composed pieces.  And if you are going to buy a composed piece, make sure the dealer is very clear that it is a composed piece.  These are essentially a conglomeration of old components put together to create a new piece, which can be done innocently to create a nice "decorative" furniture object or to defraud.  If it is purchased for an absolute bargain price and is properly identified as being a composition, these can be nice carefree pieces that you can use in the home until a pure piece can be acquired.  But when given the choice, save up and always pick the pure piece.  Composed pieces are more of a commodity and are of no interest to the collector community, so resale can be difficult on these pieces.

6.  Mix and Match

And finally, give yourself permission to be expressive and to taste from different styles and periods.  The "period home" is incredible to visit, an achievement when done successfully, but also can be restrictive to your own evolving tastes and preferences.  Have an eye to the future - you may get tired of looking at French antiques, but if you did not decorate exclusively in a "Provincial" style, then you can slowly bring other styles into a room without having to scrap the look.  I love mixing Mid Century Modern furnishings with Biedermeier; despite having over a hundred and twenty-five years between them, the similarities can be so compelling!  The austerity, preference for the natural grain, the boldness, the interesting exploration of materials - there is something rich about setting the two periods beside each other.  I also love using rosewood Danish chairs with rosewood English Regency period tables.  These are perfectly balanced materials and the simplicity of the Danish aesthetic melds nicely against the "neat and tidy" English designs.


When done properly, a room becomes magnetic to the visitor and tranquil to the owner.  It should be an oasis, its waters a reflection of you.  Our primary objective at Silla, ltd. is be a source of interesting objects, to find and catalog pieces that can hopefully find their way into your space.  Trendy and popular contemporary pieces can be fun too, and they certainly have their place in telling some of our story.  But there is such a deep wealth of fascinating designs lovingly built by craftsmen who dedicated their lives to making something that would last.