How to Mix Old and New Furniture for an Eclectic Decor

Combining eras for an eclectic design schema.


Combining pieces from multiple eras doesn’t have to look like a hodgepodge of estate sale finds. Try these tricks for a more unified look.

Q: I’ve just come back to this country and I’m moving to a house with an open floor plan. My furnishings are eclectic (to put it mildly), and I recently inherited some family antiques, including one of those carved Victorian settees whose back is divided into three cameos. My other sofa is black leather, straight-backed, mid-century modern. How can I make such different styles work together? — Abby B., Sleepy Hollow

A: Brenda Kelly Kramer, a former interior designer in Chappaqua, specialized in mixing it up with old things she finds at auctions and flea markets, and her own furnishings run from Christie’s to Pottery Barn. “Eclectic is fun,” she declares enthusiastically. But even she was challenged for a moment on hearing about your sofas. “I can’t imagine two more opposite things,” she remarked — but then swiftly recovered (she is a pro, after all).

“Let the furniture speak for itself,” she advises. “Given the demure look of the Victorian sofa, you could cover it in something neutral, perhaps an oatmeal linen or a cream-colored fabric. Add some pillows in a black and cream paisley or some other pretty pattern in black and cream. I wouldn’t choose geometrics, though. The Victorian is a graceful piece, so you need something more flowing that won’t fight with it.” Add more cream and black pillows in different patterns on the black sofa to pull the two together. Keep it simple. “Too many patterns can get crazy busy,” Kramer adds.

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If you’re in a bolder mood, you might reupholster the settee in a patterned fabric, “but something on a small scale,” Kramer adds. “I just did a Victorian chaise that was covered in a burgundy crushed velvet, and I recovered it in a cool, tiny leopard print in green and cream. It was really over the top, and so House Beautiful — amazing to think it was the same piece; it just came alive.”

With such eclectic furniture, it’s a good idea to create a simple backdrop that won’t add more clamor. “A neutral sisal carpet in a nice beige looks great both with antiques and with modern pieces,” Kramer says. “If it’s bound on the edges in black it would help tie things together. Sisal’s not expensive, and if it’s neutral, you won’t get sick of it. … You could put a zebra rug on top,” she adds.

Finally, if you’re planning to have these sofas near each other, “anchor them with the right coffee table,” Kramer suggests. “Make it look like you did it on purpose. Maybe Lucite, or a mirrored one, or a cool Deco one — something fun and interesting.”

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