Mixing modern and period elements in your home can seem daunting but the balance of contemporary furniture and flea-market finds often gives a unique result and best of all, won't break the bank. Experts Liz Bauwens and Alexandra Campbell, co-authors of Thrifty Chic, show us how to make the best of existing elements in our homes with some inexpensive additions. Simple touches such as particular shades of paint, interesting finds and bargain accessories picked up at markets will together breathe new life into your home and – crucially – won't leave you with a crippling credit card bill.
Traditional dining rooms were distinguished by large and expensive items of furniture – an elegant period dining table with matching chairs, for example. Today’s more relaxed lifestyle means that, when entertaining, we have come to regard the food and the company as more important than the furniture – and as a consequence our dining rooms are often prettier and more welcoming than their predecessors. If you are lucky enough to have unusual architectural features in your home – or great views – keep the furnishings as simple as possible to show them off. As far as this house is concerned, the sea outside is the focal point of interest and has been an inspiration for the decorative scheme.
This inviting dining room is in a city house but has a relaxed country atmosphere, created by the addition of objects from foreign countries, acquired during the owner’s travels. Occupying pride of place is a battered table from a store specialising in Normandy furniture. It is perfect for family life because its surface is already so marked and layered with paint that it doesn’t matter what children (or adults) do to it. The curtains were bought secondhand and altered to fit the window. Other items were found in thrift stores and flea markets around Europe. A gilded flea-market mirror looks all the better for its tarnished antique glass – it can be a mistake to replace silvered or aged-looking glass, because modern mirrors are harsh and unforgiving. Hanging lampshades similar to the one seen here are available in home-furnishing chain stores.
Contemporary home extensions, with their full-length glass windows and doors and conservatory-style roofing, are designed to make the best use of light and garden views. Thrift-store pieces are ideal for this kind of space because it won’t matter if sunlight damages the surfaces, and contemporary plastics or garden furniture can also work well. The chairs illustrated here have been acquired in ones and twos over the years, but they look good together because they all come from the same era. Modern furniture is well suited to this type of home extension, but you can create stunning effects by adding dramatic or elaborate pieces such as the ornate mirror shown here. The chairs are a mixture of mid-20th-century designs, including an Eames dining chair. It is worth familiarising yourself with the works of some leading Modernist designers because originals and reproductions of these are widely available secondhand, or relatively cheap new, and are the classics of the future.
Occupying centre stage in a vacation home beside the sea, the delightful room shown here is probably the thriftiest of all the kitchens. It was constructed out of scaffolding boards, cinder or breeze blocks, and plaster, and furnished with hand-me-downs and bargains from secondhand sales. Many of the furnishings are the sort of thing that people might find when clearing out their grandparents’ homes. They are often dismissed as old-fashioned and of no value – but a large proportion of the mass-market furniture of the early and mid 20th century was very well designed and of sound construction. Items such as the 1960s kitchen chairs have survived for 50 years and will last for at least as long again. The homemade curtains stretched across shelves in place of doors was a popular 1950s trick – they are cheap, easy to make, and you can change them as often as you like.
This calm, pretty dining room manages to be both elegant and casual at the same time. If you want to achieve this effect in your own home, the most important thing is to keep things simple. Another high priority is the restrained use of colour. To achieve the subtle effect that characterises the decoration of this room, consult paint cards that show colours from their palest (with the most white added) to their darkest. The walls here are white with the barest hint of grey; the woodwork and radiator have been painted a shade darker; and the mirror slightly darker still. Apart from the big mirror, decoration has been kept to a bare minimum. The other element worthy of mention is the chunky antique radiator. A radiator such as this is likely to be a major investment – even reconditioned ones aren’t cheap – but it can make a big difference to the room.
It is easy to find great designs from the 1950s onward at auctions and in secondhand shops, and many are perfect for open-plan living spaces. Some styles have become modern classics, such as the plastic chairs by Verner Panton. If you are buying modern furniture new, you may be worried that it will soon be out-of-date, but a mix of contemporary and traditional is a great look, and good design always fits into more than one context. Before coming to this converted school, the Panton chairs were at home in a Victorian townhouse and a country barn. The boxy chairs were bought in a chain-store sale in the 1980s and have been re-covered several times.