How to Style Vintage Decor
We love the character, depth, and texture—
—vintage home décor brings to a space. It’s unrivaled in terms of expression. We are believers that interior design is all about telling a story within four walls. Each corner, vignette, and piece of furniture in a space speaks to the narrative of who is living there, creating an interesting, juxtaposed conversation that echos throughout the walls to make a house a home.
Vintage home décor pieces have a way of saying “come on in, pull up a chair, take a seat,” creating layered, lived-in spaces wherever they are placed. They tell a story of history, of collection, of intentional curation, and we use them in nearly every home because of it.
“Vintage pieces are great for adding dimension to a styled shelf or console. Their texture and patina create a sense of movement and proof of life. Steeped in history and full of stories, these items add character to spaces that can sometimes feel stale.”
Like many processes in design, styling with vintage room décor is an intuitive practice, and it often involves experimentation, adding and taking away, and stepping back to see the vignette as a whole. However, there are a few tips and tricks that help bring out the best in your character-filled piece. Below are a few of Shea and the design team’s favorite rules of thumb for styling vintage, as well as a sit down with Shea herself to talk all things vintage and answer some frequently asked questions on the subject.
Three Tips for Styling Vintage Decor
Four Building Blocks of Vintage Décor
Tip No. 01 | Room to Breathe
When it comes to vintage décor styling, Shea and the design team are always trying to strike that balance between too much and too little. It can easily go from pretty to cramped, and as much as we love going into an antique store, we don’t necessarily want our homes to feel like one.
Our first tip for styling vintage décor pieces is to give the pieces you choose to bring into your home room to breathe. Maybe that vintage stone object in a built-in needs some modern coffee table books and a pretty candle next to it. Step back and experiment with what feels balanced and keep playing with it until it feels right. If you think that Shea and the design team plop down pieces and they stay there, you’re wrong. Even the experts go through two, three, four iterations of a design before landing on the configuration that feels right.
“When styling or creating a vignette, there are certain pieces that hold more weight than others. For me, when mixing vintage finds with more modern styling elements, I try to let the vintage piece with a story have a bigger moment.”
See our full Vintage Collection at McGee & Co here.
Tip No. 02 | Materials Mingle
Making sure vintage is not too repetitive, but still cohesive, is important to achieving a dimensional look. When Shea and the design team are mixing vintage décor pieces with modern ones, they’re still applying the rules of balance.
Maybe the frames on two vintage art pieces you have in the same area match, or the tones work together, or maybe you have two stone objects of a similar texture staggered in a built-in, but they are not right next to each other.
“Vintage pieces add soul, character, and patina to space, creating a beautiful juxtaposition with new ones.”
From The Crestview House
Tip No. 03 | Texture Play
Mixing vintage textiles is a great way to give a space some extra depth and character. A lot of people get hung up on vintage styling as solely objects, but textiles serve to ground the space without distracting the eye too much. Shea and the design team love using vintage rugs, from entryways to kitchens, to bring some warmth to new builds or remodels.
“Don’t limit yourself to vintage objects. You can source vintage fabric from places like Etsy or 1stDibs then have an upholster refinish a furniture piece in your home that needs new life.”
From our McGee & Co Vintage Collection
Four Building Blocks of Vintage Décor
Few things bring a home to life more than the perfect vintage home décor piece found for the perfect spot. From leaned textural artwork in the kitchen to a character-filled vase on a console table, vintage décor pieces lend a feeling of comfort to each vignette they’re placed in. We love incorporating vintage home décor in nearly every space we design, and there are four pieces that always seem to make their way into a room. Here are the four building blocks of vintage home décor—a well-worn rug, charming artwork, a textural bowl or vase, and a piece that will elicit conversation.
Vintage Décor Styling Q&A with Shea
We know that interior design can be intimidating, especially when you’re introducing one-of-kind, vintage pieces to a space where there aren’t necessarily direct examples online you can go to for inspiration. That funky trunk you found with red striping that reminds you of the one your mother had growing up? How in the world to style it? For all the questions you have, and a few we haven’t even thought to ask, we sat down with Shea to get the answers.
What do you love about vintage pieces?
I love that vintage pieces add soul to a home. The nicks, dings, and grime tell a story that no other piece can tell. When we incorporate vintage pieces, their rarity makes it hard to replicate, giving the home a personality of its own. I use the word texture a lot, but I’m not just referring to textiles—I think the patina of vintage pieces adds layer and texture to a space.
Do you ever buy vintage pieces online? If so, what are your favorite sources, and how do you ensure that they are good quality without seeing them in person?
Yes! I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, so I genuinely enjoy digging through Etsy, eBay, and 1st Dibs for hours to find the perfect piece. You win most of the time, but I’ve had a few losers. If you’re unsure about something, ask the vendor to send additional pictures or information before purchasing.
I think the gateway pieces into vintage buying are rugs, textiles, decor, and small furniture. Buying the larger pieces is a bigger investment, and they often need a bit of repair (wobbly legs, rewiring light fixtures, etc). I love the look of reupholstering vintage furniture, but I do it a lot less often than using accent pieces.
A lot of vintage décor pieces have some wear and tear even if they are great quality, does this turn you away or does it add to the character of the piece?
I think it depends on the amount of wear and tear. I love a little bit of chipped paint and the look of a time-worn piece, but large gauges or broken legs are more than I have time for and they don’t elevate a space.
How important are the bones of vintage furniture, and what materials should you look for when shopping?
Bones are everything when shopping for vintage pieces. They can always be refinished if needed, but you can’t change the shape of the piece.
Do you go vintage shopping with a clear idea of what you want to find, or do you typically pick random pieces that speak to you?
Both! When designing, I often think, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a vintage (fill in the blank) here?” And then we leave an empty spot for it, get the measurements needed, and start hunting. Usually, while I’m on the hunt for something specific, I get distracted by other things and buy them too.
Beautifully written, thank you to the creative team. And Shea of course! We’re in the process of buying a Grade 2 Listed Cottage, this piece has been so helpful to know what to declutter and what to keep. When looking at vintage/antiques shops it can be overwhelming, so much stuff, what’s a good buy and what to walk away from? Like Shea, I love having a rummage, but also don’t want to accumulate clutter or restoration projects we don’t have time for. Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading this piece.