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Can you mix retro and new furniture? Our stylist's guide

  • Classic design
  • Interior design
  • Sustainable furniture
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Olivia Lowry
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This week we caught up with Swyft interior designer Kelly Collins to talk about mixing old and new. If you’re big into retro furniture and flea market finds but are unsure how to integrate them into your home, we’re on hand. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about mixing new and old furniture with some helpful inspiration thrown in. Sound good? Let’s get started.

Can you mix old and modern furniture?

“Absolutely!”, says Kelly. “I’m a big advocate for doing so. Let’s face it - most of us don’t have the budget to change all of our furniture in one go. It’s much more likely you’ll have picked up various furniture throughout your life - hand-me-downs, thrifted items, upcycled pieces - that’s life! Aiming for a mix of contemporary and retro furniture isn’t just good for your pocket, it’s good for the planet too. Plus, we’re seeing a much more relaxed and laid-back aesthetic take over the interiors scene right now.”

Can you furnish a modern home with antiques?

“I think it’s pretty obvious to say that if you tried to stick a truly antique piece like a teak cabinet into a new build with white walls, it would look out of place.”, Kelly explains. “The key here is to decorate your space with this type of furniture in mind. If you’re moving into a very modern, box-fresh home, get some paint on the walls, put up some panelling, and then add antique furniture. Doing it this way round brings out the character of older furniture, making it feel at home rather than out of place.”

How to mix retro and modern furniture

Find a balance

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If there’s one rule to stick to when combining furniture from different eras, it’s to keep things balanced. Mixing two or more styles isn’t about using equal proportions of each, but instead, it’s about finding an approach that doesn’t let one type overpower the other. In this room, the Model 03 sofa is boxy and contemporary in style. With this square silhouette in mind, our stylist has added a mid-century side table with similar angular qualities. When furnishing a space from scratch, following parallel silhouettes is a fail-safe way to get this balance right.

Understand the elements

As you begin to search for ideas it’s worth spending some time researching. Familiarise yourself with the characteristics of both contemporary and retro styles so you’ve got a better idea of what to search for. Modern furniture usually uses sleek, clean lines with a minimalist approach, whilst retro furniture is all about bold colours and abstract patterns.

Use accessories to bridge the gap

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Blend different eras and styles of furniture together by utilising accessories. Make sure elements of the room have a nod to both modern and traditional styles. This could be in the form of a traditional patterned rug in contemporary colours, or an upcycled cabinet with modern handles. Keep this concept in mind when choosing key pieces and it’ll help you envision how each part will or won’t work together. Smaller decor like table lamps and cushions are easier to switch out than furniture, so use these as opportunities to experiment when mixing old and new.

Don’t forget functionality

Curating rooms filled with retro treasures and modern furniture is fun, but it’s important to keep practicality in mind. The furniture you choose needs to be durable enough to stand up to daily life, so it’s key to weigh up the pros and cons. Be realistic and have a list of things that are important to you before buying bigger items like sofas and beds. Balancing your style wants with your practical needs can be hard, but it pays off.

Choose statement pieces

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Colour plays a big part in creating a cohesive look for your home. Create focal points in different areas of the room with statement furniture like this Model 02 sofa in Mustard. Furnishing your room with furniture that ties the whole room together whilst still reflecting your personal style. Take note of any period features in your home and lean into this, using decor from the same era.

Learn to curate

The beauty of retro furniture is its unique quality. Try to embrace this when furnishing a space with a mix of old and new and the results might surprise you. Experiment with the idea of mismatched dining chairs, a collection of different lamps or pair an antique coffee table with a new sofa. By consciously choosing to explore different materials and textures together, you’ll end up with combinations that complement each other.

Update the classics

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Give a traditional style a new lease of life by choosing classic styles, updated with contemporary finishes. In this living room look a Chesterfield Model 09 sofa is given a fresh update from its traditional leather look with linen upholstery instead. The sofa combined with a set of terrazzo side tables and a modern lamp gives this room a perfect balance of old and new - without using antiques at all.

Modern comfort, retro charm

Sofa manufacturing has come a long way, and there are plenty of lounge-worthy options out there to choose from. If comfort’s high on your priority list but you still want that retro charm, opt for new seating that’s retro-inspired. For a mid-century look, seek out bolster cushions and piped detailing. Add interest around this bigger piece by styling the rest of the room with antiques and flea market finds.

Kelly’s top tips

1. “Not sure which era of furniture you like? Shop antique sites online and filter by type to narrow down your search. Use these keywords to search wider and give you the best chance of discovering the perfect piece.”

2. Don’t forget to measure. We’ve all made the mistake of bringing something home and realising it doesn’t quite fit. When flea market shopping, bring a tape measure and take extra time to check dimensions before buying.

3. Embrace upcycling. Don’t be put off by retro pieces that need a little TLC - basic restoration isn’t too difficult. Check YouTube for helpful how-to’s.

How To Create A Mid-Century Modern Living Room Order A Free Fabric Swatch Box

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