x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Quirky antique modern interiors

Contemporary and classic are no longer mutually exclusive, as designers bring together modern and antique pieces to create idiosyncratic yet personalised spaces.

The London antiques shop Guinevere began a revolutionary approach to the trade in the 1960s, mixing furniture from different eras in dramatic and creative ways.
The London antiques shop Guinevere began a revolutionary approach to the trade in the 1960s, mixing furniture from different eras in dramatic and creative ways.

Just when we thought we had nailed distinct contemporary and traditional interiors, along comes a new trend: decorators and design-savvy homeowners are increasingly mixing things up, juxtaposing possessions from different periods and styles. It's hardly surprising, given that every style of interiors has been revisited a zillion times, with nothing much left to discover.

This new antique-modern style is a hard-to-classify mix of the quirky, the mismatched and the magnificently well designed. Adding to what you've got and restyling it, thus achieving a seemingly nonchalant visual perfection that is more refined and rarified, beautiful and eclectic than the minimalist modernism that we have been used to. It could entail combining a distinctive piece of 18th- or 19th-century furniture with a sprinkling of mid-20th-century Scandinavian classics, some vintage knick-knacks and pieces of abstract contemporary art. The resulting composition is neither classic nor contemporary, it's both.

And it has been here before: not so long ago - before we were persuaded to throw everything out and fill our houses with black and white or taupe and brown - it was normal to furnish our houses in this more eclectic style. Living in a personalised, individual space, rather than in a design statement, provided a reference to generations both past and present - a kind of visual diary.

In pictures: Fairuz Fauzy's home

There's more to the revival of this style than simple aesthetics. Although there's no doubting the visual appeal of mixing vintage, nostalgic and contemporary pieces, the economic downturn has led to the desire to to create a haven in which to escape from today's harsh world. In an age when everything is so disposable, even young homeowners are hankering after collected objects or an antique piece for their contemporary, clean-feel apartments.

"I'm on a mission to encourage clients to mix things up continually," says Abigail Ahern, a London-based interior decorator who is a maestro at fusing bygone glamour with tongue-in-cheek modern whimsy that works equally well uptown, downtown, in the country or on the coast. "By masterfully mixing and layering collections of favourite objects and possessions you create an enchantingly idiosyncratic space. It takes bravery, but I think clients are more and more willing to [try it]. To juxtapose a shag carpet with a kelim, a mirrored side table with old leather wingback chair ... you create an energy that's exciting, unexpected and beautiful."

Antique-modern not only oozes character, but more importantly, can evolve over time, so keeping it bang up to date. Finding that special piece creates a talking point, showing intrigue and excitement in your home.

Suzy Hoodless, an interior designer who was formerly an editor of Wallpaper* magazine, is known for her skill in finding desirable vintage and contemporary furniture pieces and putting them together to make elegant and easy-to-live-in environments. "I love how pieces take on a different personality when put next to pieces from a different period," she says. "Most people want to live in a home, not a showroom."

One of her current projects is strongly contemporary but peppered with tribal design, while another comprises a heady global mix: 19th-century Chesterfield sofas and 20th-century Danish cabinets and American side tables, sitting on Iranian 18th-century rugs. "I source lots of carpets from the Middle East," adds Hoodless. "I love the decoration and sense of colour."

Many consider the late Geneviève Weaver to be the guru of antique-modern. In the 1960s she founded Guinevere, a London antiques business that is now run by the second generation of the family. The Weaver family travels the world sourcing furniture, accessories and textiles. "Guinevere has always been about mixing different eras of furniture ... our furniture and accessories are chosen because they are somehow interesting and timeless," explains Heather Weaver. And they have always been displayed in room-sets - a revolutionary approach in the antiques trade.

Many times Guinevere has been ahead of the curve. "We pushed that mixing in the beginning because we never wanted to be limited by a discipline. We never wanted to create a pastiche of another era, like a Georgian interior or a French 18th-century interior or whatever," says Marc Weaver.

In that sense, the new antique-modern is not so much a trend as an evolved style - and, judging by Guinevere's clientele, it's one that knows no national or cultural boundaries.

"We have regular clients from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, some of whom come in with their decorators," says Heather Weaver. "They tend to love the richer, more decorative pieces; ones that warm up a room. The economic downturn hasn't affected us as badly as some because we're not trend-oriented ... clients are buying fewer pieces, but they will spend more on the items they really love."

Today, design shows are capitalising on the zeitgeist. Design Miami (and its sister show in Basel) has added antiques to its offerings. At this year's show, Didier Aaron, the leading Paris antiques gallery, showed buyers how to incorporate the 18th century into the world of contemporary design, displaying historical furniture and objects in a way that highlighted their dynamic shapes, materials and techniques.

In London there is Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD) and the latest contender, Masterpiece. PAD coincides with the autumn contemporary art fair Frieze to capitalise on the throngs of collectors and buyers who swoop into the city. The four-year-old event originally focused on contemporary design but now embraces the decorative arts spectrum, with 1860 as its starting point. The dealers are encouraged to present their offerings in tableaux, as if giving interior decorating recommendations, showing how these highly desirable pieces look when mixed together in a room set.

Todd Merrill, a New York antiques dealer who has launched Studio Contemporary, commissioning new works by contemporary designers to complement its range of vintage mid-20th-century pieces, exhibited a pair of Paul Evans patchwork bold-bronze cityscape settees (circa 1970s) and a dramatic chrome faceted-front console. He says that the Saudi sophisticates were out in force at PAD's opening night. "They come with their interior designers ... are extremely cultured and love new trends. They're on First Dibs [www.1stdibs.com] all the time ... they know more about the [furniture] designers' work than their decorators do."

Masterpiece was launched this year and showcases the fine and decorative arts, contemporary design, classic cars, Islamic and Indian art, Egyptian antiquities and other collectibles "with no datelines or prejudice".

One outstanding exhibitor was Meta, the contemporary arm of the antiques dealer Mallett, which commissions "antiques of tomorrow" by the likes of Hani Rashid's architectural firm Asymptote (the architects of the Yas Hotel) and the Dutch design maverick Tord Boontje.

Mallett recognised that many of its clients were increasingly interested in contemporary design of the same quality and craftsmanship as the fine antiques. "We've always produced a few contemporary pieces to meet demand from interior designers and homeowners," says the managing director Giles Hutchinson Smith. "Coffee tables were never made in the 18th century and period wall sconces are very hard to find, so we designed them in-house in the same language as 18th- and 19th-century antiques. Then we realised we were taking the wrong angle and needed instead to create contemporary pieces with the quality of 18th-century construction."

The fine steel furniture made for the court of Russia's Catherine the Great was the inspiration for Asymptote's Ivo table. A topographic study of slumped glass suspended over a wave of diamond-shaped faceted alloy, a specially formulated compound of Russian Tula steel, it was made by some of the same craftsmen responsible for restoring the Kremlin Palace. At US$36,000 to $550,000 (Dh132,000 to Dh2m), Meta's prices are similar to the cost of fine antiques.

With their eye for the unexpected, this new and more daring generation of antiques experts is helping to drive the mixing of old and new, extending the boundaries of decoration beyond the bland showroom-style interiors that have become so popular. But, to succeed, this integrated style needs a lively and provocative sense of wit, and an understanding of the spirit of the object. In this way, the relaxed coexistence of a 1950s Italian lamp and a Bongo tribal statue from Sudan becomes possible.

Rejecting the look of the obviously interior-designed home is at the heart of this antique-modern new wave. A home that looks "done" is considered a no-no.

But this isn't a case of chucking it all together in a haphazard way. It's quite a difficult look to pull off. We could all have a go - if we had the time and dedication required to do the legwork, but more crucially, you need a trained eye, which takes time to acquire.

But that's not to say you can't begin: start with one item that you love, and slowly add new pieces, until the mix feels just right. Take your time - months, not weeks. Contrast and balance each addition against the next, considering the colour, feel and era of each item. Keep on layering, considering the effect that each element has as you go along. Have a point of view; be definitive: after all, who wants a home like everybody else's?


Where to find it

Alfie’s Market

London, www.alfiesantiques.com, +44 20 7723 6066

Didier Aaron

Paris, www.didieraaron.com, +33 1 47 42 47 34


Vienna, www.dorotheum.com, +43 1 515 600


London, www.mallettantiques.com, +44 20 7499 7411

Todd Merrill

New York, www.merrillantiques.com, +212 673 0531

Vindemia Gallery

Dubai, 04 427 0219

XVA Gallery

Bastakiya, Dubai, www.xvagallery.com, 04 353 5383