Combining classical with contemporary

Every time I mention to friends that I’m redecorating, the standard question is, “Are you going contemporary or classical?” This question is what led me to write this piece. My motto now is, “The new classical is contemporary.” We all conjure up images of matched furniture sets, prim patterns and formality with ‘traditional.’

But, hold it a minute — there’s been a revolution and what’s now being called ‘new traditional’ is a fresher, freer look that honours the classics. This style blends traditional architectural and decorative elements with contemporary ones for unexpected results that you could call peppy or edgy.

New York interior designer Alexa Hampton advocates this combination. And this was what led to an undecorated movement – white walls, sharp-angled furniture and minimalism in general. Most decorators consider this foil of old and new essential to good design. So how can we incorporate this mix in our own homes?

Mouldings, shelving, and good hardware can give a space a traditional or contemporary “frame” to which contrasting elements can be added.

Another possibility is that you move into a home (either older house or apartment) which is very traditional. You can spice this up by doing something daring like high gloss lacquer treatment for the walls. Similarly, with furniture and accessories, you can combine a more curved traditional piece with a sleek and sexy coffee table.

The converse is also true, in that, you can blend in a classical piece purchased at an antique store into a generally contemporary space. Even very ornate pieces of, say gold and black, which catch your eye but leave you feeling hesitant as to whether it will fit into your decor style can be used. A word of caution though, is not to overdo it.

Perhaps the best model for us in India is Audrey Sterk, a designer on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. Audrey presents a fresh take on early American quilt florals and 19th century silk screen patterns in her wallpaper and fabrics, editing the motifs to their essential elements and using a contemporary colour palette.

And one last tip on combining classics with contemporary is the judicious use of mirrors. Mirrors can be antique for effect or contemporary with sharp lines and bright frames and either can be used as a complement to the main decor.

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