It is a truth universally acknowledged (is that the best and most adaptable line ever written?) that most of us don’t buy all our furniture in one go. Even in a newly built, newly renovated, house there will always be pieces that have come from previous homes or previous lives (not always just our own). However, that does mean that most of us will be dealing with a mash up of styles and periods and that’s before we get into contrasting tastes and shared dislikes. Now I have spoken about the so-called red thread before, but today I thought I would give you nine tips for mixing furniture styles together.
One of the most famous examples I can think of is from the sitcom Frasier, where Kelsey Grammer’s father comes to live with him in his expensive, beautifully decorated Seattle apartment. Frasier, a terrible snob, makes a big deal about his sofa being the same as Coco Chanel’s from the Ritz. His father turns up with a battered Parker Knoll style affair in shades of brown and green. It’s hideous but it has to stay. Now that’s an extreme example but I wouldn’t mind betting than many of you are having to put up with pieces that you might not choose if you didn’t love the person who brought them into the house. And that’s another post that I’ll deal with at a later date – how to get your partner to agree to your plans.
So top tips:
1 A mid-century modern chair will always go in any environment
This is is another of those universally acknowledged truths. You will never go wrong with a chair from this period. It’s friends with everyone in the way that a nest of G-plan tables might not be. They might not like a dark wood Victorian bureau for example but the simple pared back shape of the mid-mod chair will always work. It’s up to you if you upholster it in a plain neutral or if you choose a more patterned fabric – it likes those too. So investing in a chair like this is never a mistake and you can use it in any room of the house or in any house you live in.
2 Think of invisible threads linking the elements of the room
Yes you will have a single or a couple of red threads running through your home, but make sure there are also small connections between all the pieces in the room. So the curve of an armchair might link to a round mirror which might, in turn, be echoed in the curve of a vase of flowers. You might have a piece of art on the wall which is in a square frame, but which is a picture of circles – to give a very basic example – or the patterns on the cushion fabric. Put simply, make sure everything connects to at least two things in the room to give it a reason for being there. Try making lists of furniture and doing that kids’ quiz game when you have to draw lines to find the pairs and link the objects. Not everything has to link to everything but you should be able to zig zag between the main elements.
3 Make sure there is a link between the different materials
If you have a marble clock then try to make sure there is something else marble in the room. It does’t have to be a big thing – in the 1970s it would probably have been an ashtray (!) but find at least one other small thing that ties in with it so it doesn’t appear random. If you have a brass lamps then perhaps you have brass legs on the coffee table, or a gold picture frame. You are giving it a reason to exist in that space as opposed to being in another room. This is especially key when it comes to open plan rooms – you need to create a link between the two so it might be that you can see the marble kitchen worktop from the sitting room so you might have something marble in the sitting room to make that connection.
4 Find the common element between the different styles of furniture
Most of us will have furniture from different periods and there’s no reason why they can’t sit happily in the same space but try to find a connection between them – that can be the colour of wood or the shape of the piece. My office has a Georgian desk and a Victorian pine cupboard but the colours of the wood tone perfectly and they both have rounded corners. A modern glass topped coffee table might have brass legs that go with something else brass in the room but is in contrast to the heavy wooden media unit – that might also have a glass door.
5 Georgian Houses (and furniture) love everything
It’s just a fact. You can put any style of furniture into a Georgian house and the tall, elegant proportions of the room will always work from 60s plastics to industrial tables as well as mid-century and Victorian.
6 Use colour as your link but restrict the palette
I appreciate that I tend to operate within a fairly limited colour palette sticking to two or three shades in tonal variations, but if you are mixing lots of different styles of furniture then you will find it easier to do the same thing. Otherwise the whole room will quickly look busy and cluttered and not at all relaxing.
7 Mix up the textures to create interest
You should do this in any room regardless of how many different styles you are trying to marry but it’s also relevant here. Try and incorporate linen, velvet and cotton or woven fabrics into your soft furnishings. Consider glossy black picture frames with matt black elsewhere. If you have patterned stripes on one chair then you might want to echo that with corduroy on another chair or even black metal legs on the coffee table.
8 Stick to one hero piece
If you have fallen hook line and sinker for a fabulous chandelier then don’t give it anything to compete with. Instead use it as the starting point and try and echo its shapes and materials around the room. If you have one or two vintage chairs – from whatever period then try and make sure the coffee table – even if it’s from a completely different era – has something in common with them. The woods match, or the curved arm of the chair fits with the curve of the table. Or the legs are the same colour as the legs on the more modern sofa. It’s not difficult to do but it’s about thinking about not just each piece on its own but how it fits with the rest of the room that is the key to getting it right. Also, you can have too much of a good thing; the classic Victorian parlour with its intense colours and ornate carved furniture feels oppressive whereas a single piece can bring an element of craftsmanship and drama to a room when surrounded by simpler styles.
9 Think about Scale
Now I know there is a school of thought that says that playing with scale is a way to bring drama to a room but it’s harder than you think. A large lamp on a small table doesn’t always look cool and I think you really need to be confident in what you are doing to pull that off. That said a tiny lamp on a large table will also look silly so if you aren’t sure don’t do it. Instead, try and make sure that pieces work together in terms of their size. A massive modern modular sofa will look ridiculous next to a pair of small vintage chairs so keep the proportions similar until you feel more confident in breaking the rules. Easier instead to contrast a curvy sofa with two square wooden side chairs that are different periods rather than different sizes.
Fabulous article Kate with great pictures to illustrate. Thanks for the ongoing inspiration. Leigh
I have always enjoyed reading your articles, the flair and the flow of keeping me engaged is immense. Thanks for posting these beautiful posts time and again. Regards
I’m constantly astounded by the quality of the content that you provide for free on this blog, Kate. I was going to make this comment last Thursday when the latest podcast notes came out, and I forgot. This morning I simply had to. Thank you.
You are very kind, thank you so much x