How to Mix Modern with Period in Interiors

Today’s Wednesday Ad Break is the second (and final) post in collaboration with the Danish Company BoConcept. They offer a free design service and one of the most commonly asked questions is how to mix their contemporary furniture with the period stuff that you might already own and I thought it would be really helpful for us all to get some advice on that.

I am often asked about mixing different woods or what to do about a single, and much loved, antique piece that might not go with the more modern style the home owner craves. It’s not always easy to marry the two styles and BoConcept, who will advise on paint colours as well as furniture, are keen to help customers find their own hygge (yes old term –  but they are properly Danish so they’re allowed) as sell you a chair. Indeed, they are very happy to help you find a way to mix your existing furniture with new pieces as it will create a home that is more authentically you.

the pink tones are the "red thread" marrying the modern Bo Concept table to the period sofa and coffee table
the pink tones are the “red thread” marrying the modern BoConcept table to the period sofa and coffee table

So just how do you mix old and new? I spoke to Emma Dickinson, head of design at the Newcastle branch for her top tips.

“We deal with this a lot because, although we sell modern furniture, most people, in our area anyway, live in older houses and, more importantly, they don’t necessarily want to change all their furniture, so it’s about bringing in new things that go with what they already have. I spend a lot of time advising on that,” she told me over the phone last week.

Emma also thinks the growing popularity of social media, in particular Instagram, which shows people doing exactly that, as well as upcycling period furniture to give it a more modern feel, has made people more aware of what they can do in their homes but, at the same time, more confused as to the right way to go about it.

the black walls set off the modern bo concept furniture perfectly
the black walls set off the modern BoConcept furniture perfectly

Her key advice to anyone decorating any room regardless of style of period is that you must be aware of the Red Thread. This is how you bring together a cohesive look. It’s a Scandinavian expression – röda tråden – which means you must search for the creative DNA that holds the room together.

For example, if you have a period marble fireplace in your home, you might buy a modern table with a marble top and, if the room was open plan, you would ensure that there was a marble clock, or set of candlesticks on a table nearby or just visible from the room next door.

modern bo concept furniture in a period property
modern BoConcept furniture in a period property

It’s a really simple rule that many of us might be following without having thought about it – take a look around your room and see if you can spot your own red thread. But if you are stuck then it’s worth considering to see if it can free you.

Emma cited a recent scheme where she advised clients to paint their room in the Dulux colour of the year, Spiced Honey, and then added modern black metallic shelves on the walls, a charcoal set of candlesticks on the mantelpiece opposite as well as black metal lampstands. She then added a corduroy chair for texture and used warm walnut wood to keep the tones all tied together. The red thread was the black accents, as it were.

Bo Concept Immola chair covered in corduroy fabric at
BoConcept Imola chair covered in corduroy fabric at

Her second tip was that you must never consider a piece of furniture in isolation. Just as the sensible fashion advice is that you should never buy a new piece of clothing without first being able to pair it with at least three other things in your wardrobe, so you must never just buy a new chair without thinking about the whole room. This may mean that you need to buy a chair and a small side table, or a sofa in a very modern shape that you cover in a more textured and softer material, which will sit better in a more vintage scheme.

the modern bo concept angular sofa is softened by the textured cover and cushions
the modern BoConcept angular sofa is softened by the textured cover and cushions

Texture is another key element for Emma when it comes to mixing old and new. Both she and I have noticed  resurgence in textures at recent trade shows from corduroy to quilting as well as bouclé and, of course, velvet. BoConcept doesn’t really do pattern and if you feel the same then adding pattern through texture is the way to go. Added to which, the retro feel of a cord really does work on a modern shape, which means you can put that piece of furniture into a more period setting. See above for the ochre corduroy Imola chair which visited my house for a photo shoot recently.

the rug under the table breaks up the different woods in this bo concept scheme
the rug under the table breaks up the different woods in this bo concept scheme

Next up, when mixing old and new you need to think about the colour tones. Emma’s advice is that if you have a piece of antique furniture then you can completely mix it with new stuff as long as the tones compliment each other. So if you have warm, old wood then stick to earthy tones or warm ceramics to tie the two together. Warm metallics like copper and brass will also work with warm woods.

This advice is particularly important when it comes to mixing woods. This is something I am often asked about and Emma has a couple of guidelines. Firstly it’s fine to have a wooden table on a parquet floor, or with floorboards but consider what might break them up.

Bo Concept pink table, pink cushions and throw
BoConcept pink table, pink cushions and throw

“The table doesn’t sit directly on the floor so perhaps you can introduce a contrasting leg to sit between the wooden floor and table top. Or put the table on a rug so break up the two woods. You can always mix an antique table with modern chairs or vice versa if you feel there is too much wood in the scheme.

“But do always check the tones of the woods to make sure that warm goes with warm. And keep the red thread in mind so that if you have a vintage desk with a modern coffee table then make sure there is something on each that ties them together – a lamp, a clock a candlestick.”

These are simple ideas but ones that we can all adopt and I hope you will find them useful if you too are struggling to bring in modern elements to your home. It works just as well in reverse too – an antique table will always look good next to a very modern sofa.


This is a paid partnership with BoConcept UK who sent round some furniture so that I could photograph it at home in a period setting. Everything went back to them afterwards, apart from the black table lamp and the pink throw which they very kindly said I could keep. As ever I only work with companies that I like and who I think might be able to tell us stories that can help us all in our own homes. 




Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Really love this blog, and I absolutely ADORE your bed, is it vintage? I’m looking for a new one, and that is so perfect!

  2. Great article Kate and a great “rule of thumb” for people who rule out really nice pieces just because they feel they don’t “fit” in with the rest of their debit. I think sometimes people do the “red thread” thingy without knowing and without having given the process a name! Instinct 👍

  3. Worthwhile article Kate but doing it properly, to get the right balance is challenging in my opinion.
    We have an antique, French cherry wood dining table. For many years, when we lived in a house, we had wheel backed chairs around it. These suited the country style of the table. But now in a modern flat, they looked “grannyfied”.

    We would never part with the table, so after a great deal of searching and thought, we bought Calligaris metal framed, reconstituted leather chairs in a greyish/taupe that are minimalist and elegant. The combination is discrete and much admired! The chairs are also VERY comfortable and this really matters with dining chairs.

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