10 Pieces of Furniture to Modernize a Traditional Home

by By Becky Harris, Houzz | May 03, 2017

It’s the mix of old and new that makes a space interesting, and just one or two pieces can transform a strictly traditional space into a transitional one, or perk up a space that’s become fusty.

Modern Pieces 1: John Dolan Photography, original photo on Houzz

1. Eames molded fiberglass chair. These chairs were first mass-produced in 1950 and have become iconic. If you’re nervous about adding molded plastic to your material palette, I suggest the version with the wooden dowel legs, which add contrast and an interesting structure to the piece.

Modern Piece 2: Joshua Smith Inc, original photo on Houzz

2. George Nelson Bubble lamp. These playful and light pendant lamps add shape and a warm glow overhead. They work especially well in traditional and transitional spaces when hung from a white ceiling.

Modern Piece 3: Ryan Street & Associates, original photo on Houzz

3. Bertoia stool. The wire structure of these chairs is modern, but the fact that you can see through them means they can adapt to a space — they’re like the stool version of a chameleon, letting the colors and patterns of the things around them show through. You can also play with upholstering the seat cushions in more traditional fabrics to help them blend in even more.

Modern Pieces 4: Wentworth, Inc, original photo on Houzz

4. Louis Ghost chair. Speaking of chameleons, this is one of the biggest furniture chameleons around. The clear chair takes up very little visual space, which makes it great for a tight space or one you want to look uncluttered. Philippe Starck took the classic Louis XVI armchair silhouette and used modern technology to craft it out of transparent polycarbonate, making it a clever combination of old and new itself.

5. Tulip table. Whether cozied up in a breakfast nook, used as a small side table or nightstand, or used as a large dining table, you really can’t go wrong with this midcentury modern classic, which Eero Saarinen designed “to clear up the slum of legs” he said “makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world.” I don’t know about all that, but the table’s elegant single pedestal brings a clean-lined silhouette to any spot where you place it. Opting for the marble-topped version adds a traditional material to the modern base.

Modern Pieces 5: Cloudberry Living, original photo on Houzz

6. Iittala glass tableware. An iconic vase by Alvar Aalto; a glass pitcher designed by his wife, Aino Aalto; and Oiva Toikka’s glass-beaded Kastehelmi table settings can be mixed and matched with the most traditional of your transferware. They’ll bring touches of Finnish modern flair to your tablescape.

7. Modern art. When it comes to fitting in with all kinds of styles, good art is one of the most versatile and personal design elements. An antique family portrait goes swimmingly in the most modern rooms. If you pay attention to the color palette of your room when choosing artwork, you’ll be surprised how well even the most modern piece will suit your traditional or transitional room.

8. Contemporary free-standing bathtub. Just as an antique claw-foot tub can add just the right juxtaposition in a contemporary bathroom, a minimalist tub adds a clean, freshened-up look to a traditional bath. Add a curved one to a space full of sharp angles, or a rectilinear one to a bathroom that has lots of curves and ornate lighting and mirrors.

9. Modern white ceiling fan. Remember on Trading Spaces when every designer’s first move was to rip out the existing ceiling fan? That’s because they were so dated-looking and conspicuous — usually dust-covered glass shades for a bunch of cluttered lights hung low, and the thing just screamed, “This room has not been renovated since the 1970s!”

Well, many of us could not live without our ceiling fans. We just need to give them an update so that rather than their being attention-grabbing eyesores, all we notice about them is the great breeze. A clean white modern fan against a white ceiling is a functional element you’ll barely notice.

Modern Pieces 6: Crisp Architects, original photo on Houzz

10. Marcel Breuer Cesca cane chair. This familiar chair comes in side and armless versions. It combines Breuer’s innovative 1920s use of tubular steel to create a cantilevered form and more traditional caning. Incorporating it into your decor will bring some Bauhaus to your house.

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