How to Decorate Your Room in Vintage Style
Think about a favorite room from your childhood. Maybe it was Grandmother’s kitchen or your very own bedroom – no matter which room it was you are bound to have a warm, happy feeling when you picture it in your mind. Vintage style brings that warmth to any room of your home and it isn't difficult to accomplish.
Just remember – it’s all in the details. Chippy, peeling, faded paint may not go over well in a modern apartment but it is just perfect for that vintage look you want.
Defining the Term “Vintage”
When you think of vintage style what do you think of? Maybe you see a lavishly decorated Victorian bedroom or a clean, modern 1960’s family room. There are almost as many definitions of “vintage” as there are people.
Classic decorating styles fall generally into the following overlapping time periods:
- Victorian – before 1920 – Florals, stripes, brocades
- Arts and Crafts – 1915 to 1930 – Mimicked nature, hammered metals, wood, pottery, Deco graphics
- Art Deco – 1920 to 1950 – Flowing designs, lilies, graphics, lavender, grey, pink, black combinations.
- Post War – 1945 to 1955 – Kitschy items, tropical themes, flamingos, hula dancers, pink, red, turquoise, white.
- Mid-century Modern 1960 to 1970 – Pop art, big prints, avocado, orange, gold brown. Also diner looks with checkerboard prints and floors, chrome, red, white, black or green, white, and black.
Some would argue that the styles from the 1970s should be considered vintage but the style isn’t that defined at this point. Besides, I was a teenager in the 1970s and I refuse to be considered vintage!
Within each category there are sub-categories such as country, cottage, farmhouse, etc. Vintage style is further complicated by the fact that often it works best if you use a mish-mash of items from several decades. This gives the room the feel of having been around forever.
Where to Start? Color!
Start with a color scheme. Maybe you already have painted walls and basic pieces in place that you don’t want to replace. That’s fine – vintage style is easily incorporated into almost any room because it isn’t so much about the actual color or furniture as it is about the accent pieces that you use.
White or Creamy Colors
These light neutrals work just fine in your vintage room. Using faded colors such as light sage, rose, powdery blue, or yellow help to maintain the look of age in a soft, cottage scheme. On the other hand, for a more vibrant vintage look you can add red, yellow, blue, or green to the palette.
- You can even go with a monochromatic theme and use lots of different textures to add interest.
- Add doors, windows, and other architectural salvage with chippy white paint to the room.
- Use natural fabrics that have a homespun look or go for Hollywood Glam with creamy satins, faux furs, and velvets.
- Lace window treatments work really well with this palette.
- Bring in color with potted plants.
- A white kitchen with Jadite or red accents is immediately perceived as vintage.
Blue and white is another classic combination that works especially well in a cottage or Victorian style. Cobalt blue and white is reminiscent of the blue transferware that was so popular during the 1800s. This color scheme can work from country casual to formal Victorian.
- Display blue transferware in large groups on walls or china cabinets.
- Add a distressed white wicker chair.
- Soft, barely-there blues are perfect for a cottage. Use chintz and cabbage roses for a 1930s cottage by the sea look. Decorate with vintage seaside related objects like carved birds, old lobster traps, or sea shells.
Different shades of green are reminiscent of different time periods.
- Emerald green from the Victorian era
- Sage and celery greens from the Arts and Crafts time period
- Jadite green from the Art Deco decades
- Avocado and mint greens from Mid-century Modern.
Yellow covers every time period. No matter what decade it is and what is in style people love yellow! The Arts and Crafts period favored a more mustardy type yellow than in other eras.
Red as a primary room color screams Victorian and it can be hard to pull off, especially if you have a smaller home. Mix it with white for the best vintage look.
Many companies make historically accurate wallpaper patterns for every era. If you like the look of wallpaper there is bound to be a pattern that compliments your room plans.
Using Architectural Salvage
I have a Jadite green, crackled, chippy five panel door from an old Arts and Crafts style house. It was stored badly for decades and is filled with wormholes. I love it. I have it up against a wall in my studio because I use it for a backdrop for photography. There are lots of items that you can pick up inexpensively to give your home the look you want but you need to think outside the box.
- Use a great, old door and add hooks. Attach it to a wall as a place to hang coats when you come in. You could paint the panels with blackboard paint and use them it as a message center. You could create a desktop or table out of it – the possibilities are limitless.
- A fireplace mantle, with or without the actual fireplace, adds charm and a vintage look to almost any room.
- Old window frames can be hung on the wall to serve a variety of purposes, or just hung on the wall because they look cool. You can even have a mirror added behind the frame.
- Replace new door knobs with vintage ones. The crystal and porcelain ones look especially good. Add the door knobs to a horizontally hung door or piece of wood to create unique hooks for backpacks and purses.
- Old ceiling tiles make great backsplashes for the kitchen or hang one (or a group) on the wall for interest.
- Old signs are a fun addition to bare walls.
- Replace cabinet knobs with vintage ones – especially the crystal ones.
- Repurpose a vintage buffet or dressing table into a bathroom vanity.
- Vintage light fixtures will add character and they’ll certainly be conversation pieces. Just make sure that you have them rewired so that they are safe.
If you are addicted to vintage style (and honestly, who isn’t?) then your best bet is to begin haunting the thrift shops and flea markets on the weekends. Pick up items that catch your eye and use them as displays and organizational items in your room.
- An old fishing basket can be hung on the wall and used to hold mail, or other lightweight items.
- Wicker baskets work almost anywhere!
- Crocks come in many, many sized and are great in the kitchen to hold utensils and other items.
- Wine racks are a great place to display vintage rolling pins.
- Old containers look fabulous en masse on the tops of cupboards.
- Old pantry jars hold everything from cupcake wrappers to cookie cutters.
- Bent spoons and forks make great wall hooks for kitchen towels, aprons, hot pads and such.
- Vintage advertising can be framed and used as art.
- Don’t overlook those favorite toys from your childhood! Displayed in a casual family room, they add charm and a big dose of nostalgia. Plus they’ll make you smile whenever you walk into the room!
- Vintage menus are perfect on a kitchen wall.
- Cookie jar and salt/pepper collections add a pop of color to any room – and you don’t have to just keep them in the kitchen! Use vintage cookie jars to hold the extra roll of toilet paper, cotton balls, or the TV remote.
- Canning jars are perfect for storing bulk foods in the pantry.
- Antique clocks, whether it is a Victorian kitchen clock or the 1930s kitty-cat clock, are a nice touch. Most people like the sound that a pendulum clock makes. There is just something about it that is comforting.
- Old suitcases are fun to stack up as a bedside table and they do double duty. You can also use them as storage for blankets and out of season clothing.
- Add potpourri, flowers, or candles to Depression glass sherbet glasses to use down the middle of a long table.
- Pretty handkerchiefs can be made into romantic valances for the bedroom.
- Hang things on the wall in the laundry room with clothesline and clothespins.
- Display your collections! If you collect something mass it together and make it an integral part of your room décor.
Choose items related to the room that you are working on. This is a great way to add a bit of nostalgia and that warm fuzzy feeling to any room.
- Washboard or old laundry signs for the laundry room.
- Aprons, spoons, rolling pins, food advertisements and such for the kitchen.
- Old game boards for the den or game room.
- Hairbrush sets, perfume bottles, vintage postcards in the bedroom.
Vintage fabrics are usually very affordable. They will always have the perfect pattern and color combination for the era they originated in. Use them to inspire your room and to add color.
- When you find old bedspreads, dish towels and tablecloths don’t turn away. Instead bring them home and use them as valances or curtains.
- Quilts are perfect over the back of a couch.
- Old bedspreads or quilts that are torn up can be cut and used to make chair pads and accent pillows.
Sometimes the best way to get the complete look is to buy a new item made in an old style. For example, if you want that 1950’s diner look in your kitchen you can buy chrome and vinyl stools to use at the bar. Add to that glass containers to hold straws and kitschy salt and pepper shakers to complete the look.
More and more companies are making appliances that mimic vintage ones. You can get everything from ovens and refrigerators to toasters and radios that are designed to give your room that blast from the past look.
Beadboard is readily available at almost any home improvement store. You can use it to create a country Victorian look in any room.
Telephones come in numerous styles. You can get one in the old hand crank style or a Mid-century Modern princess phone look-alike.
Decorating Basics and Tips
- Always create a focal point in every room – something that stands out. Just make sure it stands out in a good way.
- Creating groupings of things. If you have a lone piece of Depression glass that you love make it important by grouping it with other items. They do not have to be related; just make sure that there is a lot of variation in height, texture, color, or style for visual interest.
- Lamps give a softer light that the overhead lighting that is common in most houses these days. They work better with that vintage style you are looking for.
- Use texture and shape along with color to add interest.
- If you like it - it works.
Choose What You Love
The best advice anyone can give you is this - buy what you like. When you see something you love in an antique store or flea market you'd better get it while you can. There is no guarantee that you will be able to get it later since it is one of a kind.
Once I was in an antique store and found a kitchen item that I fell in love with. It would have been perfect in my kitchen, too. It was five dollars more than I wanted to spend so I decided to think about it while I perused the rest of the store. When I came back to get it after having decided that I had to own it the item was gone. It had been sold not five minutes before I went back for it. That was a hard lesson to learn but you can bet I learned it. Now when I see something I love I buy it if I can afford it. Sadly, sometimes I buy it even when I CAN'T afford it!
Choose you era and then go wild with it. After all, it's your home and it should make you feel great when you walk in.