Antiques in the Modern Home - John Isaac

Every month, Interior Design Consultant, John Isaac, presents a feature on how to use antiques to furnish and enhance the aesthetic of homes in the twenty-first century.

When I started out in my design career forty years ago, the style favoured for classic interiors was English Country House. Period-style rooms, inspired by the likes of Laura Ashley and John Flower, were overflowing with chintz, co-ordinating patterns, mismatched furniture and a cosy clutter of accessories. It was an ideal climate in which the antiques trade flourished as people flocked to create rooms which harked back to earlier times. In fact, our own grandparents, even our great grandparents, would have felt perfectly at home in these nostalgic surroundings. This was the era of over-dressed windows (Austrian blinds, swag & tail pelmets) and table landscapes where every surface carried and abundance of photo frames, ornaments, enamelled boxes and floral displays. Whether you lived in a modern flat, a pretty cottage or a 1930s semi, this was the look.

When the twentieth century came to a close, a new age dawned, bringing with it a cutting-edge approach to architecture, art, furniture, commercial and domestic interior design. Minimalism and uniformity emerged as a sharp reaction to clutter and complexity, and the inevitable casualties of this sea change were antique furnishings in all their many forms. Steel, glass and chrome replaced oak and mahogany, plain silks and neutral lines were preferred to velvets and damasks. Open-plan living, with the kitchen centre stage, required bigger spaces, more light and clean linens in which antique furniture seemed to have no place.

The resulting formula has given rise to thousands of identical interiors which lack soul and character. Smart and slick they may be, but, like suite in a hotel, they do not make for a home which is in tune with the British psyche or the British climate.

It is doubtful we will see a return to the excesses of the 80s and 90s. The ‘de-cluttering’ process has been a huge success, but, over the next few months, I want to show how carefully chosen antiques can be mixed with contemporary design to make a bold statement and introduce character and sophistication into an otherwise sterile interior.

Watch this space, my friends


JOHN ISSAC DESIGN ASSOCIATES are based in South Wales and can be contacted by email: