View On Design

How to Mix Historical Features with Modern Design

by Helen Houston


Look to the past for inspiration and pair contemporary style with distinctive designs characteristic of their times.


Antique items, historic furniture designs, and period defining decorating techniques give traditional homes a great sense of story and character, which is why I always suggest looking to the past for inspiration when decorating your home.


Think about which decorative elements defined period spaces, and translate them into a modern setting with colors, finishes, textures, layout, and positioning. This could be anything from bold statements, such as large tapestries and grand ceiling moldings, to simple things such as porcelain ware or a Chesterfield sofa.


Surprise with Plasterwork

Throughout the centuries, plasterwork such as ceiling moldings, cornices, and paint effects, have been used to give rooms structure and a focal point. They were fundamental to Victorian interiors, and are influenced by classical design.


Today, plasterwork can be used with clean architectural lines for concealing lighting, adding interest and dimension surrounding your ceiling lights, or to create soffits to set your window treatments.


Fashion a Porcelain Display

glassware on the wallThe Ming Dynasty saw the export of porcelain ware to Europe via the silk route.  Porcelain was so rare and precious that European aristocrats and wealthy merchants displayed their collections as a sign of wealth.


These days, porcelain displays have a more decorative aim. Instead of the traditional kitchen or glass cabinet display, think about creating a colorful arrangement of plates to hang on a wall. Define an area, such as a reading space, or hang the plates near your dining table to create a visual link. Use different sizes in a nonsymmetrical pattern to create a modern composition.


Consider Hanging Fabrics

Medieval and Renaissance tapestries were revered for their intricate detail, rich colors, and often vast scale.


They are no longer needed for insulation, but they make for a striking feature and are an alternative to framed art. You can find old tapestries in antique markets, or if that sounds like too much work, use an unusual rug or kilim.


Renew Something Re-owned

The Chesterfield sofa was named after the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield in the eighteenth century. Three hundred years later, this glorious sofa is still making an appearances in many homes. But it doesn’t have to look old fashioned. The dark leather of a library sofa can be updated by upholstering it in any number of different fabrics, such as velvet. Or combine it with modern side tables; incongruous elements can work together!


Pare Back a Four-Poster Bed

Dating at least to the sixteenth century, four-poster beds were built with a purpose and included heavy drapes to offer privacy and protection from the drafts.


Modern incarnations have been stripped back, getting rid of the canopies to reveal just a simple frame. If there is a low ceiling, consider using the uprights with a decorative newel cap and no fabric.


Curate Something Curious

The cabinets of curiosities of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries contained everything from taxidermy to plants, minerals, and religious artifacts. Anything that was rare or unusual was pulled together to create a spectacular collection.


In a modern living space, built with a purpose and included within a bookcase, study, or guest bathroom. Assemble the mysterious and quirky with objects, photographs, or other paraphernalia from various travels to curate unusual stories. It will be an exceptional talking point.


Helen Houston is the owner of Hues & Vues, a custom design studio located at 350 Falcon Ridge Parkway, Building 100. (702) 346-0246.


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