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How to Mix Secondhand Finds with New Items

December 17, 2013

As more daring interior designers have always known, adding vintage furniture, artwork or striking found objects to a room is an easy way to add character.  But if you’re not careful, it’s also a potential recipe for turning a room into a confused hodgepodge of modes. Here are some rules of thumb to mastering the subtle art of secondhand elegance.


Begin with a Neutral Canvas

When set against the backdrop of an imposing color, an assortment of vintage pieces might make the room look scattered. White or neutral-colored walls, on the other hand, accommodate a high degree of heterogeneity by giving individual elements more breathing room. To stir in a little more warmth, beige, grey, taupe or black backdrops will serve a similar function.

Work Within Unified Themes and Color Palettes

In the same way that neutral walls curb the busyness of a room, composing the layout of a room according to common visual elements cuts down the carnivalesque ambience. This is particularly important when using pieces that have an antique appearance to begin with (and doubly so if they happen to be vintage pop culture items). When set against similar color schemes and patterns, the used items take on a consciously curated style rather than haphazardly kitschy.

Choose Wisely

As a rule, plan on contemporary furniture for large pieces and use retro items for accessory items or accent furniture. However, if you come across a larger secondhand piece of furniture that you can’t pass up, applying a little TLC to your find will ensure that it doesn’t stick out for the wrong reasons. Often all it takes is some reupholstering or a deep clean to have an old treasure looking new again. But first, consider the amount of time and energy you have to dedicate to giving a secondhand item a makeover before you lug it home.

Highlight a Signature Item

One of the greatest things about thrifting is the thrill of finding rare, one-of-a-kind items. When you score that truly oddball mid-century modern chair or Op Art coffee table, don’t let it recede into the background. Arrange the furniture and items in your room around it as a centerpiece to showcase its uniqueness.

Use New Fabrics with Old Furniture

Even when a piece of furniture has been handled with care over the years, upholstery tends to fray, so accenting a vintage chair with a brand new blanket or modern throw pillow will breathe some life back into it. Since the raison d’etre for the new fabric is to provide sharp and unpilled texture, it need not be an attraction on its own: a simple throw from Target will do the trick.

An underlying goal of mixing new and secondhand items should be to create an overall vision of simplicity while livening things up with juxtapositions on a smaller scale. Using a vintage, ornate wood end table as a television stand is a good example. Finally, while it’s good to begin any schematic with a master plan, let a room evolve over time.  Imposing a single concept all at once can result in a forced, almost sterile appearance—and as in much of life, the best things often come to us out of the blue. So always be ready for your next unexpected find!

Uma Campbell is a freelance writer from Southern California. She loves mixing secondhand treasures with newly bought items in her home. To view more of her writing, please visit the Luxe Water Walls blog.

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