Too often you'll read advice from a Designer that the key to designing your own home is to "buy what you love" and that it will all work together. This is true if you strictly love one particular style, but if you like things from all over the place historically speaking, you can end up with a bit of a mess and the sinking feeling that something is not working, but you can't work out exactly what it is.


I think a lot of Designers give this advice because this is what they do. The difference is that they are generally following some simple design principles fairly instinctively, and probably have never analysed how or why it works for them. I know this is what I've always done in the past. So I after a bit of thought I've narrowed it down to a few basic guidelines I follow that might help give your home an eclectic, personal and collected look that isn't a horrible mess.

Here, an old dining table and modern chairs are mixed together (an easy combination - the white chairs tie it together with the wall colour), along with an old armoire via

The 1/3 to 2/3rds rule
I would say that generally mixing style works best if you employ a loose 1/3 to 2/3rd rule. Either have 1/3 modern and 2/3rds traditional or 1/3rd traditional and 2/3rds modern. By traditional, I mean whatever is traditional to you - that could be Mid Century Modern/ Art Deco/ Georgian or Victorian or just a more traditional overall styling of sofa with rolled arms for instance. I'd also include the Architecture of the room you're using in this balance. You could do completely modern furniture within a Victorian room with ornate cornices and fireplaces and it will look fab. Or you could do a touch of traditional with modern architecture.

Traditional architectural elements (the beams, parquetry flooring and windows) are the 1/3rd and the 2/3rds are the modern off centre fireplace, chair, coffee table and otherwise simplified Architecture via

a period room that has almost no traditional features, so the fireplace is modern as are the chairs and coffee table, the sculpture and more traditional  but simplified sofas tip it 1/3rds traditional and 2/3rds modern  via

Traditional table and chairs in a traditional room, the tufting on the banquette is also traditional, but the fabric choice of the blind and the skirted banquette are modern and makes the 1/3rd modern, 2/3rds traditional via

Similar timber tones
Finding common ground in the timber tones that you use is also a good way to mix styles or periods of furniture. In our living area, we bought an Antique French cherry wood sideboard. It's a traditional country style piece, but the timber colour tones well with our existing dining table. The dining chairs have a similar colour leg (note that they do not have to be a perfect match in timber colour, just similar) That straddles old and new as it is modern, but is made of a rustic recycled timber. To tie it into the adjacent living area, I'm planning to use a similar toned timber finish on the TV cabinet that I'll have custom made. That piece will be quite modern looking, but the timber colour will tie the two areas together and unify the old and new.

 modern chairs with the rustic table are a good juxtaposition.



Generally, if you pick one timber tone you like and buy pieces in that, mixed in with one other neutral  finish (such as black in our living area in the steel side tables and timber coffee table) it will work.

Similar lines
There are some periods of furniture that work better when mixed with modern furniture and styles - these include the Georgian period (circa 1714- 1830), some Edwardian era (1901- 1910) Art Deco (1920's) and Mid Century modern (1950s). This is because they have simplified lines and restrained ornamentation, which fits well with modern furniture. It's still not difficult to incorporate pieces from other periods - the huge uptake in country pieces - French/ Swedish etc is because while ornate, they are in lighter colours and fit well in modern casual living areas. Generally, if you're looking for a slightly more formal look then the darker furniture will work well. English Oak (prohibitively expensive, but lovely) also works well with casual living areas due to its rusticity.

This house has modern but pared back traditional architecture (proportions are traditional, but no skirtings/ window choice etc are modern), a modern dining table and chairs and a huge Georgian bookcase via

I look for modern pieces that have a similar feel to the antique to tie it together. If for example you have a Georgian sideboard, then buying a sofa that has similar squarish proportions for the arm works well. I find Victorian pieces the most difficult to include in schemes with modern furniture - they are often highly ornamental. I'll try to use a more modern fabric if they're upholstered, or mix them using their timber tone with other pieces that are more restrained to then introduce a more modern feel.

Bridging pieces
There are a couple of finishes that work with all styles - they're are great bridging pieces and won't look wrong with any style of furniture. Glass is one - very simple glass coffee tables or side tables will work with all styles of furniture and instantly make things look pulled together. On that theme lucite is another material that you can use for accessories when styling a room that will also give a modern but timeless feel (lucite drinks trays, lucite or glass plant holders for a moth orchid etc). Metal is the other - thin metal frames in any finish (brass/ steel/ chrome) will work in very traditional and also modern interiors.



Bridging items can also be fabrics (a traditional sofa upholstered in modern fabric for instance as shown above) or rugs.  In the picture below the choice of colour in the armchair is picked out in one of the colours in the modern abstract rug. This plays off the traditional Secretaire and the lines of the sofa well.


Artwork is always a linking element in my schemes. It doesn't have to be expensive "real" art, it just has to have some impact.  If not using a standard format painting or print a collection of old items that are framed in a modern box frame work well - framed bathing suits, framed old cricket bats… there are infinite possibilities, but framing old things in a modern way will mix in and update an interior easily.

Old framed cricket bats via the Firmdale Hotels Instagram account

the banding detail in the traditional chest is echoed in the framed Hermes scarf which makes more of a modern impact when coupled with the modern drinks tray and jardiniere via

Getting the balance right is the key to a successful mix of styles and periods. If you manage to do this then you'll find it easy to introduce new items into your home, big or small, without it throwing out of whack your existing furniture and style. Good designers/ decorators will mix things up in a scheme - there is a skill to it - and it stops a home from feeling as if you've just decked it all out from a room set at a furniture showroom where everything is very match-matchy. It gives a personal and layered feeling.

Hopefully this post is helpful in giving those of you that were interested a bit of insight into how I approach it. I love mixing things up, and it always makes me feel sad when I hear of someone getting rid of all their things for a new home because their old things don't suit the new style they're buying into. If you surround yourself with things you love you'll never want to move on from them stylistically, and you can just tweak them a bit to create a very personal look.

26 comments:

  1. Heidi thank you so much for this post, I wonder how many times I'll read it? Several is my guess! Terrific advice and explained so well that I feel like I "get it". This is why my modern art looks so terrific above my Edwardian sideboard, especially when I top the sideboard with a grouping of modern accessories? I will be referring to this as I go about putting my home back together again after our renovations. xo

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    1. Glad you've found it useful! And exactly right about the modern art over the Edwardian sideboard! I think your home is going to be just beautiful - you treasure your things, which is the first step to making it all work well together.

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  2. I would choose the same pieces, old and new are the perfect mix. Neutrals and some touches of gold are my favorite colours. I love that Emily Jenkins picture, not to mention your wonderful dining corner.
    Laura

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    1. I love a bit of gold too Laura - I am planning that for my Library (which I will post about soon). That is a lovely picture, the fabric choice is really just perfect.

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  3. Thanks Heidi! I think I have very little modern, so it has never been an issues, though I guess the art I've purchases in the last two decades is modern. I just love to be surrounded by things and they are almost never sculptural in nature - back to that whole nostalgic personality type! I love this advice however and will try and keep this in mind on a go-forward basis!

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    1. No, if you have almost all period furniture then it all goes together quite nicely! I think the craftsmanship in old furniture is so wonderful - modern pieces of equivalent quality are so incredibly expensive by comparison.

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  4. I love it when people delineate things like this! I think the concept of Victorian furniture being unflexible is universal reflected on the prices which are dirt cheap - mind you they don't fit into the doors of new builds anyway.

    I love the mix of old new and different styles but never thought about the third rule. Great post! x

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    1. Victorian furniture is definitely out of favour at the moment. It will have its moment again. The main problem is that there is a lot of horrible victorian stuff around - mass produced in factories at the time, and the quality is not as good. But also people don't like heavy dark furniture at the moment with a lot of ornamentation. The wheel will all turn again though!

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  5. Very interesting Heidi! I love having you explain the logic behind your choices and then seeing rooms where you applied that logic in a house that you are living in. Too often you get drive-by analysis where they cherry pick a few things to deliver a catchy phrase but miss the bigger picture. As noted by Dani above, when you read something like this you can't help but be affected by it by reassessing your own strategy. Well done!

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    1. Thanks GSL - I'm always unsure whether I'm actually telling people things that make sense or that are useful, so it's nice to hear some feedback!

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  6. Thanks so much Heidi. I have been introducing some modern pieces after having always had antique or more correctly pre loved furniture as like you, I have always found the quality and workmanship so much better and I just love the look of rich wood colours. I have been surprised that many pieces look great with the modern neutrals and that I didn’t need to throw out the bits that I loved for so long. I’ve had to play around a bit with colours and cushions and introducing some black just like you said but I guess I was doing it intuitively. Your gorgeous light fitting over the dining table has inspired me to lash out with some new lighting which our son has been nagging me about. I’m thinking of moving the Coco Flip to the family room It's black too ) and having something gorgeous and glam in its place. Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge. I do have access to the boy wonder but he is a man of few words! Tonkath

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  7. As an aside, none of the pieces I have replaced have made it off the property - The 1930s oval dining table the boy wonder has claimed as his for the future. A lovely old bow front oak sideboard, (used as the bar) a dropside table, (the signing table) and old chairs , desk and my very first purchase a marble top washstand were all moved out into the marquee and the garden and styled for the garden wedding. Nothing looks lovelier than an old dresser polished up with beautiful floral arrangements peonies, roses and my daughters favourite - smoke bush foliage and candles. It was so nostalgic as she had grown up with these pieces and they were so useful on the day for people to pop handbags, hats etc in the cupboards and drawers and drinks on. I kept my mobile phone and the speeches in one of the dresser drawers. These are all now in storage under the houser as I can’t let them go!) The gate leg table made it back into the house. Tonkath x

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    1. The wedding sounds just lovely Tonkath, and so much more personal to have family pieces rather than hire things in for the day! It sounds as if you have a wonderful eye for design yourself - the Boy Wonder must've inherited his Design genius from somewhere! I find it fun to play around with existing things, and it's always interesting to see things used in a different context in a new space. We've used all our furniture from our old house (bar our old bed, which is in storage in the shed - because we upsized to a King), but I've used it in a different way, and mixed it in with (lots of) new pieces so it all feels fresh again.

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  8. Hello Heidi,

    Could you please tell me who is the artist whose work is above the sideboard in your home? Love it! Cheers,
    Victoria

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    1. Hi Victoria, the artist is Kate Bergin, she's based in Qld but shows though Mossgreen Gallery in Melbourne a lot. If you look up their website you'll find other examples of her work.

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  9. love this 1/3 idea. We mix old and new and I reckon it looks ok. See you soon. Panicked re what to wear. x

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    1. It only looks strange if it's exactly half and half. Nature loves odd numbers!

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  10. Hi Heidi, I echo GSL's sentiments: it's very useful to have the logic illustrated with real examples. We have always gravitated to a mixture of old and modern, and your 'rules' sort of fit with our things. We have a number of modern items (art, sofa and lighting things) and quite a lot of mid century industrial furniture.
    I'll be returning to this post once we have a house to live in again (and some money!)

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    1. Mid century is probably the easiest thing to mix with brand new as really we haven't moved on a huge amount since then… it's the more ornate that is trickier to incorporate. Your build is really moving along - I'm so excited to see the progress!

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  11. What a great article Heidi, really great examples and you give me an idea of framing an old fan I have..cricket bats on the wall instead of in those huge bags (along my back hall) I wish.

    I really like your dining room, the sideboard is not too wide

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    1. That's great news on the fan!! I've been meaning to do a post on things for the walls for ages, and might do that. The things people always ask me about are where to get good lamps (hard), what to put on the wall, and sofa information!!

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  12. Great to hear designing simplified like that x

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  13. Gorgeous rooms. Love the cricket bats on wall. And the framed Hermes scarf. Also love the traditional sofa in the fourth last picture.
    Years ago, a friend of a friend lived in a beautiful enormous old Queenslander house. In the huge old study, fastened to two of the walls was a collection of the long oars from the boats rowed in the Cambridge May bumps, won by my friend's brother and their father during their years there. The oars of course are very decorative in a subtle old world way (a bit like the cricket bats only more so), with all the crews' names painted on the blades in beautiful lettering. Might even have been in gold, don't remember, as this was a very long time ago when we were undergraduates at Q'ld Uni.
    Later when G. was at Cambridge, an American friend rowed in one of the college's winning boats. He was crazy proud of his oar, so when he returned home he took it on board the plane as hand luggage! They're so long I don't know how he did it. Never be allowed through now. But I'm sure it's still in pride of place somewhere in his home. (His father was some kind of Texan oil multi millionaire/maybe billionaire. When we asked him what he was going to do when he returned home, he said his father was buying him his own bank.) Pammie xx

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    1. I love those huge old rowing oars. I've always been sad that Mr AV doesn't have any from his Glory Years in schoolboy rowing. He only rowed bumps a couple of times at Cambridge, so doesn't have an oar from that (think it was too full of amateurs for his liking, plus he hated it as the Cam winds around so much and he was used to straight rowing and longer races).
      If only we all could finish Uni and have our parent's buy us a bank!! Hilarious!

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  14. There's no boat race as quirky or charming as the Cambridge May Bumps. Agree it was full of amateurs, except perhaps for the top divisions, and even then. But it's amazing how they developed the rules for a race on a river that winds about and is too narrow for boats to row abreast. Can imagine it would be frustrating for a serious rower used to the thrill of a normal boat race. But the fun and charm of watching the rowers frantically trying to catch up with the boat ahead and make a bump but also trying to avoid being bumped by the boat following them - and then the way the bumper sports a small tree branch in the bow and both they and the bumpee pull off to the side of the river to watch the others go by.
    If the weather's sunny, it's a glorious day. Strolling under the trees along the banks or taking afternoon tea at the river side. Some of the houses along the river path used to put on afternoon teas in their gardens. Remember having super delicious sandwiches and tea and home made cherry cake. Kind of of like being transported into an old English story book or movie, just missing the strains of the Eton boating song.

    Our dear friend Maria coxed G's college's first mixed boat, wearing a large Edwardian style hat tied on with ribbons. They won their oars.

    Yes, hilarious, but lucky Randy. He literally said, "Mah Daddy's going to buy me mah own bank." Believe he's still doing well and has been back for the odd reunion. Sorry, this brought back a lot of memories and diverged a bit from the topic. Pammie xx

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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