Modern Traditions - Putting a Contemporary Spin on Yesterday's Time-Honored Furniture Pieces

Interior design is like fashion: it has all been done before! Clothing collections fall in and out of vogue, season after season, but they all eventually come back around - only the fabrics and details change. It's the same with furniture: a desk is a desk! The only things that change are the wood species, finish, hardware and details, such as door profiles and leg shapes. So how do we continue to develop our interiors to reflect both our modern times and the furniture we love that is not...well, our style? Is it actually possible to incorporate Grandma's traditional antique dresser into a contemporary home?

Heirloom-quality furniture is often handed down from generation to generation. However, many of us find ourselves relegating these time-honored pieces that have been entrusted to us to the back rooms, garages and attics of our homes, because we don't feel that they fit in with our current lifestyle. Plain and simply put, we just don't quite know what to do with them. But no matter what your style is - contemporary, traditional or transitional - it's time to bring these valuable treasures back out to the front lines; to celebrate and transform them into new focal points to be admired by all.

The most important factor for incorporating any mature furniture piece into an existing space is not necessarily the style of the piece, since that can be easily altered, but rather the scale and intent of that piece. The correct height, width and depth should be proportionate to the dedicated placement area. Once the perfect location has been established, you will be ready to update your heirloom to reflect your current design style.

Revitalize the old to become new again by following these adventurous and out-of-the-box ideas:

1.  Repairing - Scratches, dents, dings, broken rungs, loose doors and arms can be easily fixed by professionals. Make sure you repair the "bones" of a piece before you attempt to make any cosmetic changes. 

2.  Paint and Stain - Having your piece professionally painted or stained will be the most dramatic improvement that you will make. Should you choose to stay traditional, your piece can be sanded and stained, or if you want to make your piece more modern, you can have it fully coated with a through-body paint. Painting a furniture piece a dramatic color can transform it into a "wow" addition to your décor - just like you might see in some of the rooms shown in design magazines.

3.  Reupholster - Should your piece be one that requires fabric, you can choose closely matching or coordinating upholstery that will flow cohesively with your current design style.  

4.  New top - Give any piece with a horizontal surface a new granite, marble or engineered stone top. For an extremely contemporary look, have a stainless steel top fabricated.

5.  Hardware - Replace knobs, pulls, feet and hinges in the design and finish of your preference. There are hundreds of thousands of choices of hardware available to choose from. The following is a guideline for what finishes predominately pertain to what style:
  -Polished brass - 80s Contemporary
  -Antique Brass - Traditional 
  -Chrome - Ultramodern/Contemporary
  -Brushed Nickel/Satin Nickel - Transitional/Contemporary
  -Oil-Rubbed Bronze - Traditional
  -Brushed Brass - Traditional/Transitional

6.  Moldings and appliqués - Add moldings around the base or top of any piece for additional detail, which will make a lesser expensive piece look more expensive. Add finials, onlays or rosettes of any style to dress up doors or sides of pieces. Many of these decorative items can be purchased at, which is one of my personal favorites. 

7.  Glass - Glass placed on top of a horizontal surface will not only dress up any piece of furniture but most importantly, will extend the life of the piece by safeguarding it against future scratching and marring. The thickness and edge detail specified on a glass top will also lend the proper note to the dedicated style intended. There are also different shades of glass to choose from. 

If, in your opinion, the transformation of your table, chair or other inherited object still does not match the look you intended to achieve, here is an inside designer tip: you can visually change the feel of any piece of furniture by placing objects on or around it to help give the illusion of the style you desire. Just as a timeless black dress can be accessorized to reflect a certain style by what shoes, earrings, necklace, belt or scarf you wear with it, the same goes with furniture.

As always, if you are not certain of how to transform your own piece of heirloom furniture, do not hesitate to attain the professional assistance of an interior designer, who can guide you with his or her expertise. Interior designers have extensive furniture knowledge and are always up-to-date with the current fashions, trends and applications that would best address your needs.

Now is the perfect time to take inventory of what treasures you may have tucked away somewhere in the furthest corners of your home. You never know - you may have that ideal piece of furniture that you have been missing to complement or complete your nearly flawless interior. And wouldn't Grandma be proud?

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  • The ultimate "recycling" in an age where reusing and repurposing is more important than ever! These are fun, informative tips that almost everyone can use - who doesn't have at least one piece of "inherited" furniture that they don't know what to do with but can't bear to give or throw away... Love the photos!

  • In reply to TrueNorth:

    Thank you so very much!

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