The Rules for Decorating an Older Home (Hint: Any Damn Way You Please)

published Feb 15, 2017
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(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

My current apartment is housed in a building over 100 years old. And though it creaks and cracks a lot, nothing can replace the charm of tall ceilings, cove molding and other traditional building features. Yet I sometimes wonder if my furnishings do the space justice? Does my “Bohemian-meets-Maximalist-meets-Literally-Throw-Anything-Together” style really make the architectural details of this older building sing?

I am particularly aware of my home’s potential lacking when I view Sally Morgan-Flower London home, which was once a former pub. It’s a heady mix of modern furniture pieces, gorgeous soft colors and amazing architecture. It’s basically my dream home. And it makes me wonder if maybe I’ve gone in the wrong direction, decor-wise? I asked Sally about how she approached adding her personality to an older home to see if there are any design rules those living in older homes should stick to. Her advice was simple but makes me feel better about how I’ve designed my older home. Read on for her take on decorating in a vintage space…

There aren’t really any design “rules”

I don’t really believe in rules. In my mind, the most interesting homes are the ones that reflect people’s personalities and have something unique about them. I think you have to be a little bit daring. Don’t always play it safe, especially when it comes to color or pieces of art. The unexpected can often work out as a happy surprise.

I think just by living in a space you figure out what works and what doesn’t. There’s been quite a lot of adding in and then taking away again. You might love a certain piece but does it actually suit the aesthetic or physically fit in the room? Working in interiors, surrounded by talented stylists and interior designers, there’s so much inspiration and there are always new ideas that I’m excited to try.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

A design suggestion: “keeper” furniture

As we get older and feel more “grown up” we’re beginning to invest in keeper items. I’m nostalgic and absolutely love antiques. Luckily for us, as mid-century furniture has become more popular, you can pick up some more traditional antique furniture cheap as chips. Places like eBay, antiques shops and auction houses are my usual hunting grounds.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Consider decorating slowly

It’s all about balance. Each piece is added one at a time, instead of throwing everything together all at once. I think this approach helps to take the pressure off making multiple big purchases.

I find Pinterest, and more recently Instagram, super-handy for scouting out homes from the same period and similar ideas or schemes before you try them.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Want elegance? Use this design principle.

I really love symmetry in a home. Somehow having pairs of things can make a space feel elegant and balanced.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Contemplate color carefully

Farrow & Ball’s pigments suit heritage properties really well and they make it easy to get the colors just right (I still splash lots of different samples on the wall though!). Their inspiration site is a brilliant tool too so you can see how other homeowners have used a specific color and what it looks like in-situ.

Most of the paint colours were actually chosen by the previous owners. Greens and smoky blues are my favorite tones so there really wasn’t any reason to paint over what was already there.

We also painted the old wooden floorboards in the hall the same Lamp Room Grey as the bedroom and living space floor. It was quite a dark part of the apartment and the lighter colour has made a world of difference, also creating a nice sense of continuity throughout.

There are only half a dozen colors used throughout, with similar tones in each room, which I think can help with smaller properties. Painting a room in one entire color including doors, skirting boards and the floor, like in our bedroom, can make a room feel larger too. Like I mentioned before, test out a mix of samples as colors can look quite different in various rooms and lights.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Thanks Sally!

See all of Sally’s home — A Former London Pub Turned Cozy Home