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Vintage interiors with a contemporary touch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 10:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:31pm

Is vintage an advantage in a contemporary interior? Well, yes and no.

No disrespect to Nanna, but some things are just wrong. Shag-pile bathmats, lace doilies and plastic sofa slipcovers – what were they thinking? Although as the Vintage Home Show in London,, points out, it was a pretty funky era from the 1930s to the 1970s – one “full of innovation and fresh inspiration”, which shaped the design of domestic products, and the way people use their homes.

Fair enough, but surely we have moved on? Indeed, say the army of vintage fans. But in our mass-produced world, we yearn for originality – and a sure-fire way to add flair to your home is to pick up a one-off vintage piece that no one else is likely to have.

Irene Capriz, founder of Casa Capriz in Aberdeen,, sees vintage furniture as a piece of decorative art that is utilitarian. In a contemporary design sense, these items have driven history when they appeared, and are still a strong and influential point of reference for today’s designers or artists.

“Buying vintage means buying a piece of history,” Capriz says. “What I love about this niche market is the fact that you don’t buy a table just because you need something to eat on, but because you felt in love with the shape, the material, the lines and the story behind a specific piece. It takes a lot of knowledge and passion.”

She describes Hong Kong as an “interesting” market for vintage homewares, due to the limited amount of living space, which hinders many people’s decorating choices, and a local taste which is typically more inclined to the latest in-store releases.

That said, she suspects there has always been a vintage undercurrent, which has been growing in recent years due to the general trends showcased in interior design magazines.

So, what classifies as vintage? Broadly speaking, it sits somewhere between antique (more than 100 years old), and retro, which might not be old, but outdated. Hard-to-find items from the 1930s to 1970s are well and truly vintage – and a Casa Capriz speciality – along with old sea trunks and suitcases, which are perennial favourites.

The genuine article is not the same as “vintage-looking” furniture that is made in places such as China or India. “There is a lot of confusion out there,” Capriz says. “I’ve even heard terms such as ‘custom-made vintage furniture’, which is a contradiction on its own.”

In terms of favourites, it seems we just can’t get past the 1950s. Along with the hooped skirts and nipped waists of that decade’s fashion, you can never go wrong with a pair of kitschy ceramic cats, a smoking set or a cut-glass whisky decanter in a contemporary interior. Brass detailing was big in the 1950s – as it is today – and pieces such as a rare pair of armchairs by Italian designer Aldo Morbelli, featuring brass legs with spheres, are highly collectable furnishings from the era.

Fondue parties may have gone out of style, but some also still cling to the swinging ’70s with its boldly patterned fabrics and bright orange kitchenware. And while few of us have landlines these days, telephones from the 1930s remain highly sought-after.

Since no one wants to live in a place that looks like a museum, the key to nailing the vintage look is to mix it up. “An example might be a very modern Murano glass chandelier in an ancient palazzo, or an old industrial lamp above a very modern bathtub,” Capri says.

But there’s a fine line between vintage cool and simply old-fashioned. Joanne Pereira, founder and creative director of Eclectic Cool in Sheung Wan,, says clunky pieces from turn-of-the-century England just don’t cut it in a contemporary interior, while French classics, with their delicate design, are always trendy. “The lines of vintage French furniture are light and clean,” she says.

And the look of upholstered Regency-style chairs is so enduring that replicas are still produced today – but not, according to Pereira, with the quality of the original. “Authentic Regency chairs can be up to 150 years old, and they’ll last for 300 more,” she says.

At Eclectic Cool, the industrial aesthetic of vintage American office chairs, along with solid wood Scandinavian desks and sideboards, are winners with Hongkongers looking for a statement piece to add distinction to their homes.

“These are beautiful pieces of furniture, and generally tend to be hand-made,” Pereira says. “They are better quality [than modern equivalents] and tend to hold their value – not in terms of an investment like stocks, but if you wanted to resell, you’d probably get your money back.”

And there’s always the heirloom factor attached to a loved piece, serendipitously found. Because while Ikea might well serve a purpose, is it something you’d hand down to your children?