Dos & Don'ts

Bunny Williams’ 6 Rules for Mixing Antiques and Modern Pieces

In a recent Schumacher webinar, Bunny Williams, renowned interior designer, author and founder of Bunny Williams Home, spoke with Schumacher Creative Director Dara Caponigro on the topic of mixing antiques with modern design—a tactic she has decidedly perfected. Here, she shares her six tried-and-true tactics to keep in mind when furnishing a space with antiques.

1. Be Consistent With Quality

Yellow Living Room by Bunny Williams

In a cheerful jaune living room by Bunny Williams, each piece of furniture holds it own.

Francesco Lagnese

“Whether you have something from the 18th century, 19th century, the 1960s or today, the quality of craftsmanship and workmanship must be in harmony with everything else in the room. Today, good modern furniture that’s being made by a craftsman is quite expensive. A great option is mixing in some less expensive but well-made vintage pieces. In the end, the quality must all be complementary to each other. As much as I like IKEA for its purpose and its design, it’s hard to put IKEA furniture with an 18th-century French commode.”

2. Don’t Forget Contemporary Lighting

Bunny Williams Red Kitchen

In both modern and traditional interiors, Bunny Williams reaches for contemporary lighting. Here, in a red lacquer kitchen designed by Williams, a faceted pendant adds intrigue to a spare room.

Paul Costello

“When I was developing as a designer, and as I began to look around, I thought, ‘Why are we always trying to make a traditional lantern the light fixture for the front hall?’ There are extraordinary modern lighting designers making beautiful light fixtures. To me, one of the most wonderful things is to start with contemporary lighting. In my new apartment, all the lighting is very contemporary.”

3. Save With Antiques

Dining Room by Bunny Williams

Antique dining chairs, like those in this elegant room by Bunny Williams, can be found for a song at antiques markets and fairs.

Francesco Lagnese

“There’s been this attitude of ‘I don’t want old things.’ But if you really do your homework and hunt for pieces, you’ll be amazed at the quality and prices. Most of my young clients want a mix of antique and contemporary since most of them have come from families who’ve had traditional furniture.

I’m amazed every weekend that I go antiquing. I recently went to Millerton Antiques Center, and there were these ‘60s chairs for $800. They were well made, well-finished and better than what you can buy now—an absolute bargain.”

4. Mix Different Time Periods

Palm Beach living room by Bunny Williams

Bunny Williams mastered the mix of styles and eras in the Palm Beach living room.

Francesco Lagnese

“There’s no rule to mixing, but let’s say I have an antique desk. I might put modern chairs and a modern light with it. It’s a little bit of yin and yang–a complement. It’s not that exactly one-half of the room has to be modern or vice versa, it’s about trying to find the quality that mixes together well. Mixing furniture from different time periods doesn’t date a room; if you put a lot of different periods in and mix it up, nobody is going to walk in and say, ‘Oh this is the ‘60s or this is the whatever.’ A mix has a timeless quality.”

5. Find Inspiration on Instagram

Modern lighting and antique furniture play nicely in this chic game corner in a Delaware family home designed by Bunny Williams. Bunny Williams Inc. shares its latest projects like this one on Instagram @bunnywilliams_interiordesign.

Francesco Lagnese

“I love social media. There are some things you can’t find in a magazine that you can see scrolling through your feed. I love to contact different businesses and designers through social media. There’s a wonderful girl, Rosie Li (@rosielistudio), who makes light fixtures that we found on Instagram. She made a light fixture for a project we did at Kips Bay, and we’ve had her do other things for us. The more people that get out there the better—I wouldn’t have known her if I hadn’t seen her on Instagram!”

6. Paint a Piece to Life

Blue Bedroom by Bunny Williams

Ivory paint revives an antique spindle bed in this charming blue bedroom by Bunny Williams.

Francesco Lagnese

“Lots of furniture has a great shape, but wasn’t made of the best wood or didn’t have the best finish. Paint it! It is fantastic. I wouldn’t paint a chair if it had a beautiful finish or patina, but most furniture with good proportions is great to paint. Let’s say you go to a secondhand auction house and find a set of dining room chairs for a couple of hundred dollars. The finish isn’t great, but they look wonderful. You can paint them white, or you can paint them red, or whatever color you’d like. It’s a great way to have wonderful furniture at a reasonable price, and it’s fun to do.”

Shop Our Latest Antiques and Modern Pieces

Want to listen to our full conversation with Bunny? Watch the full video with Bunny Williams and Dara Caponigro below and be sure to follow Schumacher on YouTube for more interviews with interior design tastemakers and webinars on the business of design.

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