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Antiques and Art as Catalyst for Design


Years ago I did a residential design project for a wonderful client (a dear friend now) with amazing artworks and heirloom antiques. The interiors were worked around her Jack Cassinetto and Chuck Waldman original oils as well as numerous pieces by other talented artists.  



Together, we chose furniture, fabrics, rugs, lighting, wallpaper and other items that would work well with and update the look of the house and antiques. We didn’t match the artwork per se, but we did use the paintings as a catalyst for many of our choices. We hung pictures and decorative shelves, refurbished antiques, reupholstered all existing seating, placed furniture, and designed window coverings for every room.

For the bathrooms we designed shower and window curtains. For the bedrooms we designed custom headboards, window coverings, and bedding. When the project was completed, the client in true form, gave the artisans who worked on the project a party. It meant a lot to all of us, to be acknowledged that way. It was one of my first projects of that caliber and I felt very fortunate to work with someone so totally savvy and fun.





Fifteen years have passed and I still remember the details: mahogany balloon chairs, a matching Eastlake settee and chair, a tuxedo sofa, a trunk turned cocktail table, taupe and sage linen toile print feather filled sofa, chair and matching Roman shades, Ralph Lauren wallpapers and fabrics, an oxblood Chinese wedding cabinet… I could go on.




One of my little coups was finding a butcher block to fit in the tiny kitchen. I was on an out of town trip and happened to stumble upon the perfect one. Butcher blocks are notoriously expensive but this one was discounted because it was missing a part. The repair work was easy and the piece ended up fitting beautifully.

Another coup was some years later when she asked me to update the master bedroom. Instead of using the existing blue color scheme, we went back to her favorite, pink. I found the most stunning pearl pink and pale gray wide stripe wallpaper (a perfect departure from the more common pinks we often see), a to-die for four poster mahogany rice bed, and French modern dressers.

We hung a large collection of framed Godey prints in symmetrical fashion. Finished, it’s closely knit layout looked like one large picture. We kept the heirloom standing mahogany mirror, one of my very favorite of her pieces. What I loved about the new bedroom was how it mixed the contemporary wallpaper and dresser with the traditional bed frame and old fashioned, Victorian era Godey’s. Unfortunately, I never had it photographed. She has since moved and I’m still kicking myself.


I thought about the project above when I recently attended an event with a designer from a large, northern California city. I was familiar with her work and solid reputation. She began her firm in 2006 and repeatedly stated throughout the evening that she doesn’t enjoy working with family heirlooms. She likes to begin each project with a fresh slate. I was stunned by this and wondered why anyone would want a home furnished without any sort of history if it was available to them.



In Sacramento’s William Land Park recently, we worked with some fine antiques including a sweet little Victorian settee and matching chair. I found a great, cream colored upholstery fabric with bright coral, velvet dots. I love how the playful fabric totally changes the pieces.



Above, the late ALBERT HADLEY

In my own home most of the furniture is vintage or antique. Many pieces have a special meaning or memory. The little wood rocker in a reading corner of the living room was given to me by my late mother-in-law at the time of my son’s birth. The brass bed in the master bedroom was a piece my late husband ferreted out of the attic of his childhood home. My great grandmother’s antique dresser now sits in my living room, housing books, extra place mats and a few Christmas decorations. Its finish has turned slightly orange over the years. I adore the old bird’s eye maple dresser, also in the master bedroom which has been painted every color under the sun. Some color choices have been more successful than others.



Antiques and artwork have provided a solid design direction in some of the grandest homes in the country. Yes they add history but for me, I love the “look” of mixing old and new elements in my residential projects.

I especially love the sentimental aspect of using and reusing things that were special to me… when my son was young and still living at home. 


Shiree’s Cheat Sheet
  • When furnishing a home with antiques, try working in some trendy fabrics and accessories to bring them up to date.
  • Mixing traditional and contemporary pieces is easier if you find a common denominator such as color and fabric styles.
  • The term antique as applied to furniture is defined as being at least 100 years old, while vintage is defined as at least twenty years old.
  • To collect artwork, research, evaluate and buy pieces that attracts your eye. Choose each individual work in a way that forms meaningful groupings, also called collecting.
  • Serious collectors agree, don’t decorate your home around your artwork and don’t collect artwork around your décor.



Hotel Peculier