Let's start with a baseline set of facts: Very few people decorate with furniture sets anymore. And while it's easy to fall into the trap of following a specific trending style—midcentury, Scandinavian, traditional—the most impactful spaces are the ones that effortlessly combine elements from multiple periods, styles, and places. After all, you can only purchase so many midcentury pieces before you home starts looking like a set of Mad Men.
But mixing different periods and styles can feel overwhelming if you've never done it before. When we start decorating our homes, we often turn to big-box stores first to help us furnish rooms with the essentials: quality sofas, sturdy beds, spacious dining tables. But once this is done, it's time to think of our rooms in terms of layering: adding these smaller furniture pieces, antiques, objects, and soft furnishings that will make our space feel unique and personal.
Ready to scour your local antique store in search of the perfect vintage piece to add to your modern home? Here are a few foolproof decorating tips to help you start mixing furniture styles.
Limit Your Color Palette
The easiest way to ensure that your room will look coherent even if it features a variety of styles is to limit the color palette. In this New York City kitchen, the palette is strictly black and white with pops of greenery, which ties together the ornate architecture and chandelier with the modern kitchen cabinets, Chinese-style chairs, and the contemporary ladder.
Add Contemporary Art
Courtesy of Jessica Helgerson
If you're only dipping your toes in mixing furniture styles, one of the easiest ways to start is by adding contemporary art in a classic room—like in this Brooklyn brownstone by Jessica Helgerson—or vice versa: adding classic art in a contemporary space. The clash between the two styles is easy to achieve, and it always makes a striking statement.
Pay Attention to Scale
One of the most valuable lessons in interior design is learning to play with the scale of objects. What does this mean, exactly? Scale refers to proportion and the comparative size of objects in a space. Take this room by Charlie Ferrer, for instance. Dainty objects, such as the coffee table and settee, tend to look good next to weightier, heavier ones, like the round pedestal side table and the fringed velvet sofa. It's all about achieving balance.
Use the Power of Repetition
Courtesy of Amber Interiors
Repetition works wonders in design. Even if your room mixes different styles, it will look more put together if the same items are repeated. In this dining room by Amber interiors, the nautical pendants over the table lead the eye along the table in the same way the Mies van der Rohe chairs create continuity. The neon art is also repeated along the bookcase, and the legs on the contemporary bench create repetition as well.
Choose an Inspiration Piece
Courtesy of Studio DB
It always helps to start a room with one focus object and build from there. Take this room by Studio DB, for example. The curves of the coffee table are repeated in the curvy chairs, the rounded chandelier globes, even in the fish-scale pattern on the rug. Though each of these items come from a different time period, they work together beautifully.
Pick a Unique Theme
Another way to mix and match furniture styles with ease is to envision a theme. For instance, if you wanted to create a dramatic professor's library for a room with wood-paneled walls, you may start collecting objects that serve the theme: a green wingback chair, a tri-arm floor lamp, hammered brass baskets, a French secretary desk. Having visual points of reference helps keep your overall theme on track.
Balance Different Materials
Courtesy of Studio DB
The same way you should pay attention to scale, you should also look to balance the different materials in the room so as to not end up with a room full of mid-brown wood tones. For instance, mix a sleek stone surface such as marble and travertine with a more rustic material such as cane or rattan. Mix shiny black wood finishes with matte blonde wood. Add in glass, metals, velvet, and patterns. Thinking of materials in terms of contrasts will help in creating a layered space.
Do Your Research
Finally, educate yourself. It's easy to throw in furniture together, but a space starts to become really thoughtfully curated when you know the provenance of items and their meaning in design history. For instance, you may want to pair a Belgian art nouveau armchair with a midcentury side chair or an art deco table with a velvet fringed tufted sofa. Knowing how they coexist in design history will help you tie in the pieces together using color palettes or materials.
Next up: 10 things the French always do when decorating.