Home Decor

How to Incorporate Vintage Design into Your Modern Home

November 11, 2016

Don’t get me wrong.

I love modern design. Especially a considered piece that celebrates materiality and construction. But when a home is too modern, it can feel cold and uninviting. Having too many vintage pieces can have the same effect, resulting in a space that feels more like a museum than a home. Layering vintage and modern pieces together is a way to celebrate design, while adding warmth to your home.

To get started, focus on classic vintage pieces whose designs and materials have stood the test of time. Vintage home goods have a built-in insurance policy—the fact that they’re still around is an indicator of quality materials and craftsmanship. Purchasing vintage can be a good investment: For the most part, the value stays the same or hopefully increases. And unlike a cheaper piece, if you decide you want to replace a vintage piece, you can more easily sell it for a similar price to what you initially paid, if not more!

Mixing in vintage ensures that your home doesn’t look dated, but evolves. Here's how to start working vintage in with your existing decor: on your table, in your kitchen, and in your living room.

Photo by James Ransom

On your table

Start with neutral dinnerware, and mix in vintage salad plates of different designs. It creates a layering effect that is more dynamic than a matched set—and it feels truly unique. Classic designs have a way of perfectly complementing many modern pieces. I keep an eye out for French transferware, whose intricate and delicate patterns mix and match perfectly, and ironstone (popularized in the 19th century as a cheaper alternative to porcelain) for a neutral base.

Don’t overlook plates that may have a chip or a scratch—those imperfections give depth and history to your table. It will have never looked so alive!

Similarily, flatware needn't match either (really!). Patterned vintage flatware still looks elegant, even when the patterns are not all the same. More delicate patterns achieve an elegant table. Bolder patterns work well with a rustic design.

Vintage jam jars make great drinking glasses. Look for ornate etched glassware to mix in with simple, modern glassware—the texture of the etched pieces will get extra attention next to the cleaner lines of the modern pieces.

Don’t overlook plates that may have a chip or a scratch—those imperfections give depth and history to your table.

Vintage linens that have been kept in good condition are true treasures—they’re often finished with intricate stitching, a testament to the careful attention to details paid by the maker. And the good news is that if the fabric has lasted this long, it’s probably very well-made, and of the high-quality good stuff.

In your kitchen

Vintage doesn’t have to be all about looks. There are pieces of cookware that perform better the older and older they get.

Cast iron pans develop a seasoning, making them non-stick and easier to use with time. They can also be an heirloom piece to display on a wall—commemorating the many, many meals it's cooked.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Copper not only looks stunning, but is an excellent heat conductor, and is the best material for whipping egg whites into a stiff, dreamy peaks (science says so!). Copper's unique rosy warmth has a way of fitting in anywhere, from low design to high. The best and brightest deserve a spot on open shelves.

Even wood can age with a purpose—the natural oils transferred into the wood over time will help the wood repel liquid. The deep, dark color it takes on doesn’t hurt a bit, either.

In your living room

Vintage furniture in classic shapes, like bentwood chairs, complement modern designs. A little wear and tear on the piece adds depth by pointing to the piece's other lives. If you love the lines but the fabric is worn or just not your style, recovering is a great option! And it’s often much cheaper than buying a modern replica of the piece.

I recently recovered a vintage danish modern couch—I got the design I coveted, the exact fabric I wanted, and at a quarter of the cost of the couch’s modern replica.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Worn-in vintage rugs, handmade in quality materials, can add physical and visual warmth to an otherwise sterile floor. The history of its use in its original home adds life to yours.

Wondering how to style your shelves? Vintage books are always a good choice. You can often buy them in bulk at thrift stores and use them as fillers until you find the perfect object for your display.

You may have to dig a little deeper, but hunting down vintage is well worth it. So get out there—to flea markets, antique shops, even Craigslist—and give something a new life, while bringing your home to life!

What are your favorite vintage pieces to collect? Tell us in the comments.

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  • Nancy
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Alexis Anthony

Written by: Alexis Anthony

Treasure hunter and sneaky snacker.


Nancy March 11, 2017
My vintage items came from my mom, who was born 100 years ago, in 1917, and is no longer with us. When she passed, I had a great collection of vintage, and my biggest admonition to family members, regarding their parents old things - don't be too hasty to toss or sell it all! I have a lot of mom's beautiful etched glassware, silverware, her wedding china, aprons, tablecloths and napkins, and yes - a beautiful bookshelf with gorgeous old books, including her original Anne of Green Gables.

The thing I am most proud of, though, is the professionally done shadow box of her vintage kitchen items, hanging in my kitchen. Cookie cutters, her red handled rolling pin, potato mashers, a Slovak goose feather pastry brush, pretty molds - AND a handwritten recipe card in her handwriting of her famous Poppy Seed Cake. The other treasured item in this shadow box is a photo of ME, when I was about 4 years old, rolling out cookie dough with that red handled rolling pin.

In another smaller shadow box, I took her beautiful aluminum jello molds, popped 8 of the 9 upside down on a black velvet background, flipped one over for interest. Its gorgeous, and adds a beautiful vintage/retro look to my otherwise transitional kitchen. You can find a partial image of the one vintage shadow box on Houzz https://www.houzz.com/photos/2467975/Painted-and-Patterned-Kitchen-traditional-kitchen-cleveland and https://www.houzz.com/projects/143950/painted-and-patterned-kitchen
kendell January 6, 2017
Well done! I've got a vintage tabletop rental business - www.thefestivefrog.com. You've hit the nail on the head with your concepts.