Can modern furniture work in a 16th century farmhouse?
I left my glass-walled flat in Thameside for a 16th century farmhouse. All my furniture is modern, with clean lines. Will it ever be able to function in the new location? Or do I have to delete everything and start over?
I really don’t think it would be a particularly wise or practical idea to get rid of all your furniture. Sure, you’ll probably want to start hoarding parts that you think are appropriate for your new, very old frame, but what does “appropriate” actually mean?
I don’t believe living in an old building means you have to own old furniture exclusively. I love antique furniture, but I generally prefer to mix the old with the new. What matters here, above all, is comfort. Will the furniture you had in your apartment by the river be comfortable and good in your new farmhouse? When I think of country comfort, I think of plush sofas and armchairs, beanbags the size of toy cars, and good soft warm lighting.
Ultimately, however, it all comes down to personal taste. Of course, it is possible to live in an old building in an extremely minimalist way. In fact, there are several examples of existing country houses in this style that come to mind. I see concrete floors, sparse furniture, contemporary lighting, faucets and doorknobs. No patterned fabrics, of course! (Heaven forbid.) Crisp white linens, pointy tables and very uncomfortable seats.
On very rare occasions, my mind wanders and I think: could I live like this? Would that be somehow liberating? And then I settle back into my nest of beloved objects, swirling floral fabrics, postcards, letters, statues and seashells and realize, of course, that I can’t.
I guess all those clean lines and the lack of furniture make you appreciate the structure of a building more – the beams, the shape of a roof, the masonry. Beautiful, yes, quite sublime. But I find the stare cold, totally inhuman, depressing, essentially devoid of emotion. I mean, how could you possibly feel comfortable, even remotely, in rooms like these?
Still, I don’t think you have to choose between one look or the other. There is no need to consider rash decisions such as throwing away everything you own and starting over. Plus, like I mentioned, I want the mix. The ratios are up to you. Personally, I might prefer a split of, say, around 90% antique furniture and 10% contemporary furniture, but you have to experiment and figure out what feels good in your home.
I mention David Hicks a lot in this column because I think the way he mixed antique and contemporary furniture, art, lighting and accessories was nothing short of genius. Take his own country estate, Britwell, for example. The living room is a delicious mix: sofas with contemporary shapes and upholstered with an elegant geometric pattern stand alongside metal lamps and old tables strewn with rustic clutter: books, flowers, photo frames. Above the towering fireplace hangs a contemporary abstract painting in shades of robin blue and peach. The overall effect is impressive, sure, but by no means stuffy or old-fashioned.
I also remember a barn in the English countryside, decorated by merchant and designer Christopher Howe. Here, a Regency-style painted chest of drawers sits below a simple and elegant semi-circular mirror, while a 1950s Serge Mouille ceiling lamp hovers nearby. A bold, geometric mid-century Swedish rug happily resides under a beaten leather armchair.
The mix is bright and exciting and the overall look perfectly confirms my point that there are no rules for country decorating. Keep one. In Howe’s barn you’ll still find a lot of things you really need in the countryside: countless cozy nooks to snuggle up in, heaps of cushions, books and blankets. Like I said, comfort is key!
I would like to mention one last thing though: while clean lines can still work very well in the country, I would avoid too much cold material. Glass and chrome may have worked well in your London flat, but in the countryside you want warmth and patina. Think iron, wood and brass. Step away from the dumpster and try things. Who knows what kind of exciting furniture, lighting and color combinations you might come up with?