Today’s interiors are about storytelling, and no element adds more to the story than a beautifully crafted antique. There is magic in the dynamic visual tension created by a blend of ancient and modern. As Alexa Hampton shared with me, “If the architectural backdrop is contemporary, pieces with age and patina will serve as the perfect foil to the stark modernity of their surroundings.”
It is this counterbalance that makes the use of antiques so powerful in the hands of a skilled designer. It creates that timeless quality our clients want in their interiors. In her own apartment, Hampton expresses the sumptuous elegance of another era by combining a pair of French Empire style mahogany chairs with a 19th Century Austrian Neoclassic ebonized secretary/commode, circa 1800.
Designing for a home in Central Park West, Libby Langdon, of Libby Interiors Inc., juxtaposed a modern painting and lamp with her client’s great great grandfather’s desk. The lovely patina of the desk, and the family history it embodies, can never be replicated.
“I hope and pray that young people start to realize how they can artfully mix in special family heirloom antiques with the new furniture styles they are drawn to, and how both can not only peacefully coexist but add style and meaning to their interior design,” said Langdon.
Another valued colleague, Mary Douglas Drysdale, said, “I have always favored rooms with mixes – antiques, transitional pieces, modern art and unexpected finds. This classic / modern mix says more to me about the complexity of taste and times than a room that is perfectly balanced and of one moment in time.”
Starting with a neoclassical mantel thought to be original to the 1920s Tuxeden Estate where it resides, Drysdale transcended eras by selecting a bold modern painting by Linling Lu, a Washington, DC artist, to bring the colors of the garden into the interior. The harmony of opposites is simply brilliant!
One particularly magical aspect of antiques is provenance. A single antique element can shift and enrich the character of a space. It brings with it the craftsmanship of another time, in some cases craftsmanship and materials that we cannot duplicate today.
Known as “The Commander In Chic,” Natalie Reddell, of Natalie Reddell Interiors, created this space by blending her client’s heirloom rug with a caned bench from their parents antique shop in Mt. Dora, Florida. The contemporary painting is by Richmond artist Lindsay Cowles.
Denise McGaha, of Denise McGaha Interiors, selected a 19th Century French mirror from her client’s extensive personal collection to serve as the focal point for this breakfast room. The juxtaposition of the Saarinen table and the gilded pier mirror is dramatic yet cohesive.
“I love using antiques in my designs because it brings so much character to the space. I especially love mixing in clients’ antiques with other new items to create a look that tells their own personal story,” says McGaha.
In my own project for Millstone Manor, my inspiration began with the Jackson Pollack painting you see reflected in the Bunny Williams mirror, purchased from Mirror Image Home. Beneath, a Regency Chest from Kenny Ball in the Antique & Design Center stands in ordered contrast to the Pollack’s random swirls, which are echoed in three dimensions by the Christopher Spitzmiller lamp from Visual Comfort. Framing the vignette, a pair of Kindel chairs anchor the arc of blues while softening the strong lines of the chest. Central to this synergy of juxtaposition is the counterbalancing effect the reflection of the painting has on the academic classicism of the chest and chairs.
Finding the perfect fit for the Hooper Kyser House, the oldest house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Lisa Mende purchased this mid-19th Century walnut chest from the Antique and Design Center. To create a layered and inviting sensibility, Mende counterbalanced the antique chest with more contemporary design elements.
Dubbed “The Mixmaster,” Eric Christopher Cohler, of Eric Cohler Design, demonstrates his signature skill by blending modern art with vintage collections. An antique Swedish chandelier from the late 19th Century adds an exquisite finishing touch to the composition.
Toma Clark Haines, CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co., the world’s largest antiques touring company explains, “It’s all about the mix. Different periods and different styles, different echelons and origins are what makes a room exciting. People today want their rooms to reflect their globally chic lives – global influence – southeast Asian textiles next to Swedish Rococo chairs, and French Louis XVI gilt consoles paired with a vintage African juju hat.”
The intrigue of another culture always has the capacity to transcend the ordinary, much as a film can captivate and create an alternate perspective. A Moroccan inlay chest, an ornately carved Venetian Commode, or an English Tudor chest all serve the same purpose, but their cultural content is distinctive and the experience they elicit is unique.
For their One Steamboat Place project, Joni Vanderslice and her team at J. Banks Design used a dramatically scaled bookcase to create a space that lifts the eye and spirit upward. Once part of the Vienna State Library in Austria, the piece was sourced from Randall Tysinger Antiques in High Point.
The talented team at Mitchell Hill sourced a 19th Century French Restoration Period commode with Saint Anne marble top, circa 1820s, and then paired it with a colorful grid and modern furniture. The resulting space is at once avant-garde and pedigreed.
Perhaps more profound, some artifacts possess the cachet of having been owned by a person of distinction. Recall the red hot auctions of the collections of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, or of an eccentric collector such as Doris Duke. Or, better still, the coveted collections of Jacqueline Kennedy or The Duchess of Devonshire.
Years ago I had a chance to purchase a rosewood étagère from the collection of Nancy Lancaster, and have regretted not buying it for decades. Sharing an object with a person we have admired connects us in a very particular way over many years. It is hard to overstate the intrinsic spirit that antiques have the capacity to evoke. It’s meaning that goes beyond just the tangential sphere.
Searching for something totally inimitable for their Regency style home, The House of Bedlam, John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon of Madcap Cottage were elated to find this 18th-Century portrait at Baker Furniture. Affectionately known as “Myrtle,” she now holds court over the couple’s tony soirees.
From my perspective, antiques are as close to magic as we get with our material world. They represent our connection to the past and our desire to live a unique life filled with personal meaning. Hopefully, they evolve into treasured family heirlooms. Fortunately, High Point Market features two sources for items from another time that I consider truly exceptional.
On your next visit, add the Antique and Design Center (which should be better than ever, having recently expanded their space by 6,600 square feet), and Randall Tysinger Antiques to your list. You’ll discover a treasure trove of remarkable design.
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