How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage

Mid-Century Modern to 1980s Flare and Victorian Chic: See these Creative Tips for Vintage Interior Design

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage

Vintage design is having a major moment, with mid-century, Victorian, and other historical styles gracing the pages of interior magazines and websites. The timeless elegance and old-world charm of vintage décor add character to modern homes. But how do you make a contemporary space actually look authentically vintage?

The key is to focus on adding period-specific vintage furniture, lighting, wallpaper, accessories, and textiles from styles like mid-century modern or the ornate Victorian era. Sourcing or upcycling era-appropriate antiques and decor is crucial. Vintage wallpaper, lighting fixtures, accessories, textiles, and furnishings will transport modern rooms to the past.

This article explores some creative tips to make every space in your home look straight out of another decade.

Choosing a Vintage Style Era

The first step to making a modern home look vintage is deciding which era you want to recreate. Research the signature aesthetics of different periods to select the one that resonates most. Some of the most popular vintage aesthetics include:

Victorian (1837-1901)

The design world of the Victorian era stretches from 1837 to 1901, the reign of Queen Victoria. Victorian style is marked by dark, ornately carved woods like mahogany and walnut. Rich colors like deep reds, greens, and blues covered sumptuous fabrics. Patterned wallpapers and upholstery fabrics range from damasks to florals.

Ornate details give Victorian pieces a sense of luxury. This includes clawfoot tubs, crystal chandeliers, lavish crown molding, and tufted furniture. Accessories like taxidermy and bell jars fill out the old-world Victorian vibe.

To recreate a Victorian look, incorporate antique wooden furnishings like sitz tuft sofas and roll-top desk hutches. Use angled settees, fainting couches, and four-poster beds in bedrooms. Choose floral lace curtains and Persian-style rugs. Display blue and white antique china in corner cabinets accented with brass hardware.

Mid-Century Modern (1940-1969)

Mid-century modern style dominated the period between 1940-1969. Mid-century design celebrated simplicity and minimalism as a reaction to the bold ornate styles before it.

Mid-century furniture has a light and airy aesthetic with clean, sleek lines. Iconic pieces include compact sofas on tapered legs, molded plywood chairs, and smooth teak media cabinets. Sculptural lighting fixtures in spheres and globes embody mid-century style.

To recreate mid-century appeal, opt for muted neutral palettes accented with bright pops of color like orange, yellow, or turquoise. Incorporate organic shapes and patterns inspired by nature using wood, wool, or cotton textures.

Display souvenir wares, geometric artwork, and pile shag rugs atop sleek hardwood floors. Accent with iconic “sputnik” lighting fixtures, faded Scandinavian daybeds, and brightly colored plastic accent chairs.


1980s style is bold and playful. This decade was filled with bright neon colors, geometric patterns, and kitschy novelties. Key ‘80s elements include Memphis design furniture, pastel hues, and postmodern art and accessories.

Channel the ‘80s with bright pops of teal, pink, and yellow. Add black and white geometric prints and postmodern sculpture pieces. Top it off with statement lighting like crystal chandeliers.

Once you’ve chosen the era you want to recreate, you can move onto sourcing vintage or vintage-inspired furnishings and décor. Keep the signature styles of your chosen decade in mind as you make decorating decisions. This will help create cohesive spaces with yesteryear appeal.

Vintage Furniture

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage - Vintage Furniture

Nothing makes a home look vintage quite like adding authentic period furniture. Here are some tips for finding and incorporating vintage pieces:

Shop Antique Stores

Antique malls and stores are treasure troves for quality vintage furniture. Search for authentic mid-century credenzas, Victorian fainting couches, or retro ‘80s cabinetry.

Be prepared to pay more for authentic antiques in good condition. But the vintage appeal is worth the investment, especially for statement pieces.

Visit Auctions

Auction houses regularly offer a wide range of antique and vintage furniture at reasonable prices. Arrive early to inspect items up close before bidding starts.

For more affordable options, check out local estate sales. You can often get vintage furnishings direct from homes being cleared out.

Upcycle Existing Pieces

Give modern furnishings a vintage facelift by refinishing or upholstering them. Strip and stain newer pieces to achieve a worn antique look. Or reupholster plain sofas or chairs with vintage fabrics.

Replace modern hardware on dressers and cabinets with vintage-style glass knobs and brass pulls to add old-fashioned flair.

Mix Vintage and Modern

Don’t be afraid to blend vintage finds with modern furnishings. The contrast can make the older pieces stand out as statement focal points.

A few key vintage items like a large Persian rug, tufted leather sofa, or carved oak hutch will give spaces that chic vintage vibe.

Vintage Wallpaper

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage - Vintage Wallpaper

Wallpaper may seem old-fashioned, but it’s come back in style and can instantly vintage-ify a space. Here are some tips for selecting and using vintage wallpaper:

Choose Era-Appropriate Prints

Select wallpaper prints that align with your chosen vintage aesthetic. For Victorian spaces, look for damasks, florals, and William Morris prints. Mid-century style calls for atomic starbursts or abstract florals. The ‘80s saw bright graphic geometrics and deco prints.

Buy Removable Peel-and-Stick

Removable peel-and-stick wallpaper allows you to easily apply and remove prints. This makes it simple to get a vintage wallpaper look without permanent changes.

Many companies like Chasing Paper and Tempaper sell removable wallpaper in a range of retro prints and colors.

Use an Accent Wall

You don’t have to paper entire rooms to make a statement. Try using a bold vintage print on just one accent wall as a focal feature. Position prints behind beds, sofas, or dining tables.

For renters, try peel-and-stick wall decals instead of full wallpaper. They create a similar effect but are easily removable.

Vintage-style wallpaper or prints add timeless visual interest to any space. Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from iconic patterns of the past and make them your own.

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Vintage Lighting

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage - Vintage Lighting

Lighting has a big impact on the style of a space. Vintage fixtures cast ambient light that seems to transport you back in time. Here are some tips for incorporating vintage lighting:

Source Authentic Fixtures

Look for true vintage fixtures from eras like the 1920s, 50s and 60s. These could include tiered chandeliers, sconces, or mid-century arc lamps. Search local antique shops, second-hand stores, or eBay for deals.

Rewire old fixtures for safety. Then position them in entryways, over dining tables, or above bed frames for ambiance.

Opt for Vintage-Inspired

Can’t find authentic vintage fixtures? Many lighting companies now make new versions of iconic mid-century, industrial, and regency-style lights.

These vintage reproductions have an old-world look without the hassle of rewiring older pieces. They come in era-appropriate finishes like antique brass, nickel, or weathered iron.

Add Dimmer Switches

Install dimmer switches to control the mood lighting from vintage fixtures. Soften the brightness for a cozier historical feel.

Dimmers also allow you to adjust bulb wattage and color temperature to match the warmth of older incandescent bulbs.

Pro Tip: Use smart bulbs like Philips Hue to program color-changing and dimmable vintage lighting effects.

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Vintage Accessories & Decor

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage - Vintage Accessories & Decor

Beyond major furnishings, decor accessories bring spaces to life and provide those all-important finishing touches. Vintage accessories add a pop of history. Here are more tips:

Shop Estate Sales

Estate sales offer a trove of vintage home goods priced far below antique shops. Comb through them for decorations like framed art, vases, statues, lamps, and ornate tabletop objects.

Position these Victorian, mid-century, or ‘80s finds thoughtfully around your rooms as accents to drive home the vintage vibe. Cluster pieces together for vignettes or use symmetrically as statement mantel or shelf displays.

Browse Etsy By Decade

The Etsy vintage marketplace has millions of unique antique and retro decor goods. Use their filters to browse wall art, rugs, curtains, and accents by specific design decades.

This allows you to easily hone in on era-appropriate pieces. Look for mid-century geometric prints or art nouveau-style decor for a more eclectic Victorian mix.

Upcycle Thrift Store Finds

Give second-hand goods new life through upcycling projects. Simple vintage-inspired ideas include:

  • Converting old paintings or trays into statement mirrors
  • Covering storage boxes with vintage fabric for Ottoman-style seating
  • Spray painting ceramic pieces bold metallic colors for industrial flair

Revamp thrift store table lamps by adding new drum-style shades. Or decorate walls with a collage of retro-framed prints layered atop floating shelves.

Use Vintage Reproductions

Mid-century and Victorian-style decor elements are hot right now. Retailers like Anthropologie and West Elm sell mass-produced vintage-look decor.

Mix these affordable reproductions amongst authentic antiques for complete vintage-inspired rooms. Use them in secondary spaces to save money.

Create Themed Vignettes

Capture specific vintage vibes in vignettes. A bar cart with decanters and highball glasses exudes mid-century style. While a sitting nook with a hanging macrame planter has 70’s flair.

Use vignettes to immerse guests in your favorite era. The details tell a story and add vintage personality.

Vintage Textiles

How To Make a Modern House Look Vintage - Vintage Textiles

Soft furnishings like rugs, curtains, upholstery, and bedding cover large surfaces, so they significantly impact the vintage appeal of a room. Some textile tips:

Incorporate VintageFabrics

Look for vintage drapery and upholstery fabric swatches online or in antique shops. Then use them to make pillows, curtains, and slipcovers.

Rich fabrics like velvets, damasks, and mohair from past eras add luxury. Watch out for deterioration in older fabrics.

Source Vintage Area Rugs

Vintage rug dealers offer thousands of hand-knotted Persian and Oriental rugs from past centuries. These look right at home in Victorian and mid-century spaces.

For more affordable options, seek out vintage-style print area rugs. These artificial reproductions mimic retro patterns on machine-made rugs.

Choose Vintage Prints

When selecting new textiles, opt for prints and patterns inspired by past periods. Look for deco geometrics, paisleys, florals, or atomic prints that align with your theme.

Vintage replicas allow you to customize sizes for pillows, drapes, and upholstery to fit your spaces.

By mixing a few key antique or vintage textiles amongst contemporary pieces, you can strike the perfect historical design balance.

Mix and Match Vintage Styles

While focusing on a single vintage era is one approach, don’t be afraid to blend elements from different periods for an eclectic look.

Mixing vintage aesthetics takes a thoughtful approach but allows you to put your own bold stamp on historical style. Follow these tips when combining eras:

Choose a Dominant Era

Select one vintage aesthetic as the dominant style for a space. This unified basis prevents clashing.

Mid-century modern and Victorian work well as anchor styles given their recognizable signatures. The dominant era should make up the majority of your furnishings.

Complement With Accents

Add accent pieces from secondary eras that complement your main style. For example, a mid-century modern room could incorporate ‘80s Memphis-style artwork as an edgy contrast. Or art deco furnishings could accent a Victorian space with elegance.

Aim for accent eras that share some similar qualities with your overall era, like both employing richer woods. But allow the accents to contribute their own flair.

Repeat a Color Palette

Pull a color palette from your dominant era and use it across accessories from complimentary periods. A mid-century pink sofa looks cohesive with ‘80s pink neon wall art.

Consistent colors tie the look together. So if your main style uses muted tones, keep accents in those same families.

Unify With Fabrics

Use fabric to create visual ties between furnishings from different eras. An Indian tapestry throw blanket placed on a mixed mid-century and Victorian bed pulls the look together.

Textiles like pillows, throws, and upholstery help unite what could otherwise feel like discordant vintage mixtures.

Seek Transitional Pieces

Some furnishings transcend style eras. Versatile antiques like tufted leather sofas, Persian rugs, and ornate gilded mirrors transition seamlessly between various vintage aesthetics.

Use these chameleon pieces liberally when blending eras. They’ll act as the glue bonding the overall layered vintage vibe.

Avoid Extreme Mismatching

Steer clear of pairing vastly different historical styles like baroque pieces amongst modernist furnishings. The stark contrasts will feel haphazard rather than purposefully eclectic.

If you’re struggling to make a mixture work, try changing up the accent era or transitional objects to find a more compatible combination.

Blending vintage designs takes thoughtful curation but creates playful lived-in spaces layered with history. The right partnerships can allow eras to complement each other beautifully.


There are many routes to take a modern interior back in time through vintage style. Finding authentic antiques or vintage reproductions is key for larger furnishings. Beyond that, era-appropriate wallpaper, lighting, accessories, and textiles complete the yesteryear look.

Approach vintage design by focusing on the iconic styles of your chosen decade like mid-century, Victorian, or 1980s. Keep the signature aesthetics of that period in mind as you source and upcycle furnishings and decor. Before long, you’ll have a beautifully curated home that pays homage to vintage styles of the past while still meeting the needs of modern living.

The next time you want to refresh your rooms, skip the trends and think vintage. With some careful styling, you can seamlessly blend old and new decor for spaces with timeless appeal and old-world charm.