Find a harmony between old and modern objects

A stark contemporary room is softened by the warm Xsmall sofa (LOMI €2,975), while the eye is drawn downwards from the double height ceiling by a prominent canvas and tree branches with a sculptural aesthetic.

Mixing antique and contemporary elements is an enduring look and helps to pull together different styles in furniture and objects you have and which don’t seem to get along.

What is key to harmonising these odds ‘n’ sods you might have bought over the years, or which were donated to help you set up home, is art and photography. An approach is to combine an old cabinet that doesn’t have the cachet of antique but might be categorised as vintage, and a modern artwork, a poster or black and white photo hanging above.

One of the most striking combinations I’ve seen as an example of this was a quite dingy Victorian washstand that had been eaten by woodworm but still had its marble top intact, and on the wall above it an unframed abstract painting.

Eye-catching, balanced and at the same time an example of making what you have work — rather than slinging it in the skip for something new.

It also works counter-intuitively. An old painting in an elaborate gilt frame sited above a very modern cabinet, table or contemporary streamlined sofa has the same effect.

But bearing in mind that few of us have a supply of inherited gilt-framed paintings, an obliging car boot sale will throw up a tatty but fancy frames that, with a spray of gold paint from your art supply shop, will encase an old family photo. Also remember that thanks to new technology, old tattered photos can be restored and enlarged significantly without losing resolution.

A simple and modern metal frame surrounding the picture will provide a lovely contrast and will tie in with a modern furniture piece beneath.

My own version is very simple. No worthy, gilt-edged art or French polished antiques here. My humble arrangement occupying a spot behind the sitting room door is an old — not even fashionably vintage — mahogany veneered dining trolley on castors. My father as a very young man gave it to his older sister as a wedding gift and she in turn gave to me.

What it lacks in beauty and monetary value, it makes up for in personal connection, history and the love and thoughtfulness with which it was given.

A collection of modern family photos in chunky rectangular brushed metal frames costing €3 each from a well-known Scandinavian retailer, zig-zag around the wall above, keeping within the parameters of the trolley’s length.

If displaying family photos, old or new, is not your thing, interesting objects are an alternative.

A sculpture, even a manufactured plaster imitation version, or a hollowed out stone bowl will, like the art/photography and furniture combo, provide a new focal point in a room, taking the eye away from the flat-screen television in the corner.

Quirky or out-size mirrors are an option. As well as being attractive they are also functional. Don’t forget rugs either. If you’ve ever bought a really beautiful one and hesitated to put it on the floor, knowing it would be walked on, ask yourself if it would look good on a wall. Later, if you fancy a change it can revert to its original purpose.

* Next week it’s the new trend of organic modern



* Try something that is neither art nor photography on your wall to provide visual interest, practicality and an alternative focus to the space. Furniture fashion brand Obi has come up with a calendar version for each day of the week since chalkboards became fashionable in kitchens and family rooms for lists and appointments. Approx. €120 at 

Small art galleries, craft fairs and pop up craft shops are excellent spots for picking up prints and limited editions that won’t traumatise your wallet.

This arresting little print by Pat Byrne straddles childhood and adulthood, printed on upcycled 1830s English encyclopaedia pages (€20 unframed at Jam Art Prints)

Grand Day for the Insects is a sophisticated limited edition print for those who are free of arachnaphobic tendencies. Made by New Zealander Kelvin Mann, it was inspired by our National Botanic Gardens. (€113.50 unframed at Printmakers Gallery, Dublin)

A fantasy canopy bed is in the fine detail of Caroline O’Donohue’s etched print The Elopement (limited edition €330 from Graphic Studio Gallery)

Fine art printmaker Marta Wakula-Mac’s Nude III recreates the body with simple lines for a delicate aesthetic (unframed €180, framed approx: €275 at SO Fine Art Editions)

Aoife Hanrahan’s Deer stencil on plywood offers something novel and contemporary (€80 at )


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