We have fond memories from our childhood of being at our grandparents where we were surrounded by vintage pieces. The styles may vary, but vintage pieces add so much interest to a home’s interior and can help bring back cherished memories. They make great focal points and conversation pieces. My father passed a delightful Victorian Settee down to me several years ago that has been in our family for at least 4 generations, if not more. It came from my great grand-parents home in Hamilton, Georgia where dad remembered at one point the settee was moved to their front porch where everyone would gather and visit. He laughed when he remembered his granny throwing a fit when she discovered the pet coon-hounds had discovered and were napping on her Victorian Settee. A cherished family memory that I will pass to my children and grandchildren along with the settee!
Victorian décor has never been part of my personal design style, but I could never let go of this family treasure. When I moved from Atlanta to the North Georgia Mountains and opened Trimble Kelly Studios, this settee came with me and had to fit in! Victorian settees were traditionally upholstered in either a dark green or dark red mohair or velvet. The fabric upholstery on my settee when I got it was solid, olive green cotton velvet that was not the original, but changed by my grandmother. My guess is that when the original wore out, she replaced it with as close of a fabric as she could find. It worked ok in my first space, (below left) but when we moved to Strauss Village it needed an updated look. So I went through my fabric library and found a faux suede brown and white cowhide pattern. It was a big hit. All of my clients who visited my studio would comment on the settee and how cute it looked with a non-traditional fabric. This fabric was from Designtex, but is no longer available. However, there are many other similar fabrics available today including animal prints, great multi-colored textures and a huge variety of prints and wovens.
Other concerns with using antiques or vintage pieces relates to their size and construction methods. Most 18th century furniture was designed for people who were smaller and “proper.” Many antiques, especially Victorian pieces were not designed to hold larger people or sit sideways in with your legs over the arms like we sit today. When reworking a vintage piece, you will need to check the “bones” of each piece to make sure it will be safe for use. You may need to add additional or restructure the internal supports and framing. When we reupholstered my settee, I was told by my upholsterer that it had been reupholstered at least 8 or 10 times. The wood had been weakened greatly by so many nail holes that it required substantial restructuring so it could be used.
Tips for buying Vintage Pieces:
· Not all vintage pieces should be altered from their original state. If you find or inherit a piece that has great value, you may dramatically reduce the value by changing it.
· Consider the scale and ergonomics of the piece if you are intending to use it. As mentioned above, pieces from the 18th century were smaller for the smaller physiques of the day and will not be comfortable for most people today.
· There are so many resources available for finding unique vintage pieces and the search can also be very entertaining and exciting. When I moved to the North Georgia Mountain area, I made a map of all the flea markets and antique shows in the surrounding towns and states. When it is market time, it is a lot of fun going on field trips across the countryside, hopping from town to town and shop to market in search of treasures for special places. You can establish a network of valuable contacts from these markets and shows that are glad to help you find that special piece. It is amazing how many of these vendors travel the countryside from market to market and can be great resources for finding unique pieces.
· Last but not least, don’t be afraid to have some fun with mixing the old with new.