How to decorate with antiques with The Peak of Chic

“In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z”  is a guide to 20th century design. Credit: Copyright ©2013 by Erica George Dines
“In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z” is a guide to 20th century design.
Credit: Copyright ©2013 by Erica George Dines

Jennifer Boles wrote the manual on classic design. The House Beautiful contributing editor and blogger behind is an expert on what she calls the “design greats from the past.” She weaves together tips and history in her book, “In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z.” We spoke with Boles, who will be at the Philadelphia Antiques Show this weekend, about mixing the old with the new.

Who are your biggest design influences?

I greatly admire the work of designers Billy Baldwin and Albert Hadley, both of whom helped to define classic American decorating. Both designers were adept at coupling classic, traditional design and modern decorative elements. I also respect the late Dorothy Draper, whose work at The Greenbrier and The Carlyle hotel exudes great flair and exuberance.

Can anyone incorporate antiques into their home, or does it only work in certain spaces?

Antiques work just as well in contemporary houses as they do in more traditional interiors. In a contemporary home, antiques help to soften the sometimes cold, hard lines of modern architecture. Also, keep in mind that one of the advantages to decorating with antiques is that their patina introduces depth and maturity to an interior, which is a nice counterpoint to those furnishings that are brand new.

How do you choose antiques if you don’t know anything about them? Do you need to become an expert first?

If you want to start collecting antiques, it is a good idea to become educated about them. Train your eye by visiting antiques shows, museums and antiques shops. Talk to dealers, most of whom are more than happy to discuss the finer points of collecting. That being said, it is not necessary to become an expert first. Buy what you love, but buy within your means.

What’s your favorite piece you have in your home?

My home is a mix of inherited antiques and 20th century design classics, such as a lacquered parsons table and a corkscrew-base drinks table. These furnishings work well together because classic pieces partner well with one another, no matter whether one piece dates to the 19th century and the other to the 1960s. My favorite piece in my home might just be a 19th century English pier mirror, which once hung in my childhood home.


Boles’ top 5 tips

1. Buy the best that you can afford. Good quality is money well spent.

2. Collect something, whether it is antique, porcelain, black and white photography, or books. Collections add personality to a home.

3. Classic furnishings — such as a slipper chair, a parsons table or a klismos chair — never go out of style, which make them good design investments.

4. One of the most economical ways to change the look of a room is with a can of paint. Changing out a room’s wall color can do wonders for that room.

5. A bedroom should be cozy and comfortable, and one way of achieving that is with wall-to-wall carpet. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of wall-to-wall carpet, but I do think it does wonders in a bedroom, where it helps to create a sense of warmth and coziness.


Meet the expert

Learn about 20th century design from Boles on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the 53rd annual Philadelphia Antiques Show. The show runs April 26-29 at the Convention Center (11th and Arch streets, Tickets to Boles’ talk are $35 and include general admission.


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