Use Vintage Pieces to Add Interest & Bring Back Cherished Memories
A A desire to live in a nostalgic environment has attracted many homeowners to the log and timber design styles. Living in a world where change is constant, the design direction for retirement and vacation homes is leaning more towards “the way things use to be.” Rustic Mountain living is a wonderful way to experience older times, but furnishing in that genre can be a challenge. Vintage furnishings are charming and add to the historical flavor. But they can also create interior design challenges in terms of fitting in with newer furnishings and supporting modern creature comforts. Antiques come to us from many sources and many of us bring vintage pieces with us that have been in our families for years.
We have fond memories from our childhood of being at our grandparents where we were surrounded by vintage pieces. The styles may vary, but vintage pieces add so much interest to a home’s interior and can help bring back cherished memories. They make great focal points and conversation pieces. My father passed a delightful Victorian Settee down to me several years ago that has been in our family for at least 4 generations, if not more. It came from my great grand-parents home in Hamilton, Georgia where dad remembered at one point the settee was moved to their front porch where the pet coon-hounds slept. A cherished family memory that I will pass to my children and grandchildren along with the settee!
Victorian décor has never been part of my personal design style, but I could never let go of this family treasure. When I moved from Atlanta to the North Georgia Mountains, this settee came with me and had to fit in! Victorian settees were traditionally upholstered in either a dark green or dark red mohair or velvet. The fabric upholstery on my settee when I got it was solid, olive green cotton velvet that was not the original, but changed by my grandmother. I gave it a fresh look with a faux cowhide fabric.
Other concerns with using antiques or vintage pieces relates to their size and construction methods. Most 18th century furniture was designed for people who were smaller and “proper.” Many antiques, especially Victorian pieces were not designed to hold larger people or sit sideways in with your legs over the arms like we sit today. When reworking a vintage piece, you will need to check the “bones” of each piece to make sure it will be safe for use. You may need to add additional or restructure the internal supports and framing. When we reupholstered my settee, I was told by my upholsterer that it had been reupholstered at least 8 or 10 times. The wood had been weakened greatly by so many nail holes that it required substantial restructuring.
The below bed was also passed down through our family that is American from around the turn of the century. The original mattress was cotton cover stuffed with real horse hair, supported by ropes that were woven or laced between pegs on the foot and head boards and side rails. The original bed was an irregular size that did not allow for a larger, modern mattress. We fabricated new side rails that matched the original side rail design but were longer to accommodate a new full size mattress. The original foot and head boards were preserved in their original state. The bedding shown in the photo is a handmade, brightly colored quilt and bed skirt which gives the bed an updated look. This bedroom shows how nicely vintage pieces blend with hickory bark and other traditional furnishings so popular for mountain homes.
Another area where vintage pieces are used quite a lot are in bathrooms. Charming vintage dressers can easily be converted into a powder room vanity by raising the legs and cutting a hold for a sink.
Tips for buying Vintage Pieces
- Not all vintage pieces should be altered from their original state. If you find or inherit a piece that has great value, you may dramatically reduce the value by changing it.
- Consider the scale and ergonomics of the piece if you are intending to use it. As mentioned above, pieces from the 18th century were smaller for the smaller physiques of the day and will not be comfortable for most people today.
- There are so many resources available for finding unique vintage pieces and the search can also be very entertaining and exciting. When I moved to the north Georgia Mountain area, I made a map of all the flea markets and antique shows in the surrounding towns and states. When it is market time, it is a lot of fun going on field trips across the countryside, hopping from town to town and shop to market in search of treasures for special places. You can establish a network of valuable contacts from these markets and shows that are glad to help you find that special piece. It is amazing how many of these vendors travel the countryside from market to market and can be great resources for finding unique pieces.
- Last but not least, don’t be afraid to have some fun with mixing the old with new.
LEFT: This vintage settee, before and after reupholstering, has been passed down through 4 generations. RIGHT: The turn-of-the-century American made bed, has been restored to fit a modern sized mattress.