What's Old Is New Again

Como By Design is a unique event taking place this week in Melbourne, in which 27 celebrated local interior designers will transform and reimagine the interiors of historic Como House. Our interiors columnist, Lauren Li, is one of them!

Inspired by participating in this incredible event, today Lauren shares her ideas for seamlessly incorporating antique elements into the modern home.

Lauren Li

Details from Newtown Residence by Space, Grace & Style. Photo – Cricket Saleh, Styling – Megan Morton.

Lauren Li
16th of October 2018

Does living in a beautiful space make our lives more beautiful? I wonder if I lived in a grand mansion like Como House, filled with antiques and priceless artwork, would I still want to slouch under a throw rug and binge-watch the Bachelor whilst devouring a bag of popcorn? Or would the space encourage me to pursue more suitable pastimes, such as learning classical piano? I believe that the space we surround ourselves in, be it large or small, makes a strong suggestion as to the way we behave.

In my work as an interior designer, I’ve found most clients simply want to be comfortable and feel good in their home. They want a great atmosphere to entertain family and friends. Often, they will have a few pieces of furniture and artwork that carry meaning for them, and my work as a designer is to extend on those pieces and tap into how they want the space to feel. They don’t want a ‘display home’ that is just filled with trends, or a bland copy of a Pinterest image. A home needs to go deeper than that.

One sure way to ensure an authentic feeling of ‘home’ is by incorporating vintage or antique pieces into a space. The addition of an antique instantly makes an interior space unique and special, it can’t be copied by your neighbours with a quick trip to the nearest store. Antiques are rare, every piece is different with a story to tell.

Antiques instantly add soul and life to a space like nothing else can, and the best bit, they don’t need to be expensive. In fact, a lot of antique furniture is well-priced and ready and waiting for a new home to adopt it. Antiques were handmade at a time when things were built to last, unlike a lot of mainstream furniture that is sold on the market today. Incorporating antique pieces really is the ultimate in sustainability.

At the upcoming Como by Design event there will be a wide range of styles presented in the historical mansion, with a common thread. Twenty-seven of Melbourne’s most renowned interior decorators are participating, all of whom have designed bespoke pieces in each of their projects, produced by local workrooms and artisans. Fabrics are co-ordinated with contrasting piping or trims, they are not ‘off the shelf’ pieces. Antique pieces are reimagined, repurposed and upcycled in clever ways. For example, a French balcony wrought iron decorative grate has been repurposed into a console table by Brownlow Interior Design. Now this beautiful piece can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Mind you, filling up a room with an assortment of antiques in an unplanned, eclectic way is rarely a good idea. You may find yourself living in a space that resembles a rambling second-hand store, rather than a gorgeous comfortable home. Here are some examples of work by the designers showing at Como by Design, and some tips to get the mix right.

Details from Newtown Residence by Space, Grace & Style. Photo – Cricket Saleh, Styling – Megan Morton.

Details from Newtown Residence by Space, Grace & Style. Photo – Cricket Saleh, Styling – Megan Morton.

The home of Tamsin Carvan of Tamsin’s Table features charmingly mis-matched antique dining chairs. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Expect the Unexpected

There is a skill in creating a cohesive space, where everything doesn’t need to ‘match’. Stores make it easy to fill a house with everything from the same range, from the coffee tables to the bed. This is a quick and easy way to create a harmonious and comfortable space, no doubt about it. HOWEVER the big risk here is dying of boredom! Adding antique pieces right there next to contemporary ones creates a bit of tension, a bit of excitement and an element of the unexpected.

Rebecca of Space, Grace & Style is an expert at just this thing. Her design studio combines mid-century with Chinese antiques, and upholsters dining chairs in leopard print in a way that really works! The colour palette is limited, and instead there is a focus on shape and materiality.

This grand entry was once covered in ‘pub carpet from the 70s’according to Lucinda of Kimpton Interiors. They have designed a concept that is deserving of this gorgeous space. Scale is key; the table, light, mirror and décor items are all scaled up to fit perfectly in proportion here.

A moody interior with a bold combination of antique and new furnishings, by Brownlow Interior Design. Not only are the furniture proportions perfect in this space, to me it combines the perfect proportion of antiques and contemporary pieces. The antique lantern is a stunning selection, its large but transparent so not overpowering. The tan leather Cab chairs by Cassina are a prefect compliment and will patina beautifully over time. Photo – Christine Francis.

An antique French dresser in the home of Natasha Morgan, from  L J Tuddin Antiques, Inverloch. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

An antique French dresser in the home of Natasha Morgan, from  L J Tuddin Antiques, Inverloch. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Perfect Proportions

The number one challenge that people encounter when incorporating antiques into their home, is scale and proportion. Even the most glorious antique piece won’t look right when the scale isn’t right in the space. It works both ways; a piece of furniture that is too large for a space, or too small, just won’t work.

Often special antique pieces were custom made to suit a specific room. A stately Victorian house will have high ceilings and grand entrances with the furniture designed to fit. When these grand cabinets, commodes, buffets or tables are brought into a house of more modest proportions, they can be overpowering. Equally, having furniture pieces that are too small can make a space look unfinished and empty.

Be sure to measure the space and plan the room before making your move. If you have inherited an antique piece that is a different matter. Rather than let it go if it doesn’t work, consider how it can be adapted, refinished or reupholstered. Antique furniture was made to last, so it’s always worth resurrecting. Antique furniture dealers often have their own craftsmen that can assist with making adjustments here and there, just ask!

The brilliantly eclectic home of Sandra Powell and Andrew King combines antique furniture and a huge collection of contemporary artwork and street art. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Duck Feet Lamp by Porta Romana, with shade custom designed by Brownlow Interior Design. An antique French wrought iron balcony grate has been cleverly repurposed as a console table by Miguel Meirelles Antiques, complete with an antique Louis Philippe style mirror above.

It takes a trained eye to take an antique piece and reimagine it into something far from how it was intended. Brownlow Interior Design took an old riders’ boot and turned it into a fabulous lamp, a true one-of-a-kind conversation starter! It takes pride of place on a Hungarian antique console table which serves as a drinks table. Photo – Christine Francis.

A Light-hearted Approach

When combining antique pieces in a space, we don’t want it looking like a museum! Mix in something unexpected to lighten the mood. Brownlow Interior Design often incorporate antique pieces into their projects, alongside unique accessories and contemporary lighting to lift the mood and create a truly  memorable space.

This space by Moss uses a motif in the existing stained glass windowto guide the selection of the pendant light. The simple shape of the pendant light allows for the windows to be the focal point here. Photo – Martina Gemmola.

Melissa of Melissa Balzan Design combines a traditional brass lamp effortlessly with contemporary art with a focus on texture, rather than bold colour.  Photo by Hannah Caldwell, styled by Lucinda Bocain.

Find a Common Element

When combining many pieces from different eras, a space can begin to look disjointed unless there are some ground rules set in place. If there is a common element, though, it will come together. A good approach to blend various pieces easily, is to limit the colour palette to one or two shades only. If we focus on the shape and texture being the main feature, the space will be more harmonious.

Adelaide Bragg & Associates deftly blend pieces of different eras in their interior projects. They are known for their strong focus on natural material of the timber, sisal, rattan, linen and leather.

Beatrix Rowe Interior Design expertly combine grand Victorian architectural characteristics sympathetically with contemporary pieces. They have a deep knowledge and respect for heritage architecture, and create a design response that merges the new and old seamlessly.

We can also draw out a motif or shape, and repeat that idea with our selections, as Moss have done with their project in St Kilda West. They selected a pendant light over the dining area which mirrors the motif in the stained glass windows in the property, thus blending the old and new seamlessly.

A collection of antique pieces that all show a beautifully worn patina in this project by Adelaide Bragg and Associates. Photo – Lisa Cohen, Styled by Tess Newman-Morris.

The combination of textures in this project by Adelaide Bragg and Associates captures what a Victorian Country Homestead is all about. It’s warm and tactile but not precious. Photo – Lisa Cohen, Styled by Tess Newman-Morris.

This space by Space, Grace & Style is exciting, it combines something old and worn with a gleaming ornate mirror together on a dark backdrop.  Photo – Cricket Saleh, Styling – Megan Morton.

A collection of antique pieces that all show a beautifully worn patina, in this project by Adelaide Bragg and Associates. Photo – Lisa Cohen, Styled by Tess Newman-Morris.


What is this thing called ‘patina’ that designers love so much? It’s when a piece of furniture shows the signs of age, wear and well… life. This aged patina on furniture pieces brings some depth and soul to a space; it’s showing us that it has stories to tell. Only a true antique can tell a story like this, and add genuine emotion to a space. A reproduction mimics the look or style of an antique, but it’s just doesn’t feel the same as an authentic piece.

A cupboard reveals that it previously was painted green or pink or yellow at some stage. Maybe the brass handle of the cupboard shows a shiny area where it’s been opened many, many times before. The patina is not a defect, it’s the very thing that makes these pieces so special. Much like the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, there is beauty in the imperfections.

Colour is the Answer

When in doubt, use colour. If there is a collection of pieces that don’t seem to go together, consider using colour. Create a coloured backdrop, and tie in with upholstery and window furnishings. Select a bold colour and layer it, don’t mix in too many other colours otherwise it can look chaotic.

When of Camilla Molders Design When Camilla sourced this antique cabinet at Moss Green Auction House she told the client to ‘Buy it!’ and thankfully, they did. The saturated blue wall colour is the perfect complement show off this piece. Photo – Martina Gemmola.

Brownlow Interior Design have created a cohesive space whilst combining an antique chair and contemporary side table. These pieces work so well together as the single colour green ties them together. Photo – Christine Francis.

For a first hand look at how clever design can seamlessly bring together old and new, join me and 26 other Melbourne interior designers and decorators at Como By Design this weekend!

Immerse yourself in the magnificent Como House, and see how Melbourne’s top designers have decorated each room throughout the entire house and garden. The event begins with an extravagant Garden Gala Party this Thursday afternoon, and is open for viewing Friday through to Sunday. Ticket proceeds go to the National Trust and the Princes Trust.

Como by Design
Como House
Corner Williams Rd & Lechlade Avenue
South Yarra

Friday 19th Oct to Sunday 21 October

General Exhibition Tickets – $38.50
Gala Garden Party (Thursday 18th October 5pm – 8pm) : $250
Design Seminars (Various times) – $45.00

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