Contrasting old and new is challenging endeavor


Q: I'm considering furnishing my modern home with some American antiques. But my budget won't allow me to purchase high-quality antiques, and I also wonder whether traditionally styled furniture will look right in these large and plain interior spaces. Do you have some suggestions for how I might proceed?

A: Creating a contrast between the architecture of a home and the style of its furnishings is both an exciting and a demanding task. On one hand, you can take a lot of license in choosing patterns and colors and in arranging the furniture. On the other PTC hand, you have to be careful as you go about breaking the rules of interior design. The overall styling or packaging of the room must be deftly handled, and that's not easy for an amateur to do.

I would also caution you against seeking the advice of a traditionalist decorator. She or he may well tell you that you're making a mistake -- that it's best to let the form of the house dictate the style of the furnishings. I don't agree. And I do know plenty of professional designers who are willing and able to produce an attractive contrast between architecture and interior design.

Let me also encourage you to pursue your interest in American antiques. They are often a good choice for large spaces with well-proportioned ceiling heights. Classical sofas look especially good. A piece with exuberant scroll forms in the arms and good detailing on the feet would be in striking juxtaposition with an unadorned modern room.

Wooden pieces from the same period of American design are generally more restrained in their styling. But because they usually borrow heavily from Greco-Roman architectural motifs, these types of bureaus, tables and wardrobes have a boxy, over-scaled quality that fits well in modern rooms.

One appropriate design is shown in the photo. This reproduction of a classic American dresser is part of the Milling Road Furniture collection. Nearly 3 1/2 feet tall and faced with a curly maple veneer, it has a commanding presence that would only be further accentuated by an unornamented background. Note the authentic touch of the round brass drawer pulls with escutcheons.

To continue the theme of an understated surrounding, I would accompany a piece like this with a flat-loomed carpeting or maybe a vintage American hooked rug. It wouldn't need to be large, but I realize that even a small rug of that type can carry a big price tag. Can I persuade you that it would be a very sound investment?

The same applies with something like this reproduction dresser. No, it's not inexpensive, but it does cost less than an original -- if you could even find one for sale. While I have no idea what exactly your budget will allow, I must stress that the project you envision cannot be carried out properly unless you spend more than a few dollars. And be sure to set aside enough for some antique wall decorations. Besides expressing your taste, they'll add to the elegance of a modern setting furnished with good reproduction pieces.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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