Parsons Gray :: Interior Design Studio :: Cambridge
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Studio Blog


Live design: decorating with antiques


I adore antique furniture: there, I’ve said it. It may not be terribly fashionable (which, personally, I don’t think actually matters – after all, who really wants their home to look like everyone else’s?), but I don’t think there’s anything like it for bringing texture and depth to a room. Charming, stylish and beautifully made, you can forget the notion that ‘antique’ automatically means expensive; quite apart from the obvious eco benefits of buying fewer new, cheaply made pieces for your home, their relative unpopularity means that antique pieces often cost the same or less as buying new.

In short, I believe firmly that whether it’s a lovely old oil painting or an unusual chair, it’s perfectly possible to pair something old with something very new or contemporary so that each complements the other perfectly. To prove it, I’ve styled some beautiful pieces from Cheffins’ upcoming Fine Art and Art & Design sales (which take place on 12th and 13th September, and 11th October, respectively) in my own home.


There’s nothing more classic than a brown chair, and this Howard-type leather armchair is a perfect example of how these beautiful old pieces lend weight to a space. Whether your preferred style is clean and contemporary or has more of a modern rustic bent, a slightly beaten up leather armchair will always feel cosy and classic.


Open shelves in a kitchen are a practical choice for items that you use every day, such as china and glassware, but they also serve as the perfect spot in which to display large-scale paintings that you might struggle to find a place for elsewhere. The quiet, muted colours and lively brushwork of this oil on canvas, ‘Moored Boat with Trees’, by 20th-Century British painter Juliet Harmer, provide the perfect foil to this otherwise neutral space.


Another ideal spot for larger paintings – this lovely still life is by early 20th-Century British painter Ethelbert White – is in walk-through spaces such as this short corridor, which links my sitting room to the kitchen. If you have an entrance hall or landing that looks a little bit drab, this could be just the thing to lift it.


If you want to incorporate smaller pieces, it’s a good idea to gather two or three together to give them some context. I’ve arranged this Regency stained-tortoiseshell tea caddy with a small oil painting, “Newlyn High Water” by Ken Howard. Not only does this give each piece a sense of scale, but by leaning the picture rather than hanging it, the arrangement immediately feels less formal.

I’m a great fan of chairs and I think if you find either a single or a pair that you like, you can make them work with almost anything. These bamboo chairs with rattan seats – thought to be early Colefax and Fowler examples – feel relaxed and informal, and work well as secondary seating.


Small pieces of furniture are a good way to introduce antiques to an existing room. Here, a late 18th Century yew-and-elm Mendlesham chair, and a late 19th-Century Gothic revival occasional table flank a modern sofa but because neither piece is terribly big and the rest of the space is quite simple, nothing overwhelms the room.


One of my favourite ways to use antiques is to place a single, standout piece in a plain white space. This oak Orkney child’s chair with basketweave back is such a beautiful shape that the craftsmanship rightly becomes the focus of the room.

And the key thing to remember? Be brave and buy what you love, because then you will always find a place for your auction treasure.

For more items from the Fine Art sale, which takes place on 12th and 13th September, follow Cheffins on Instagram @cheffinsfineart