Pick and mix: How can you achieve the modern-vintage style without your home resembling a bric-a-brac stall?

Blending modern with vintage is harder to get right than you might think. Expert Emily Chalmers shows you how to perfect the look

Sunday 23 October 2011 02:59

Emily Chalmers is queen of the "artfully edited" space. It's one of those skills that you don't realise is actually a skill until you try and do it yourself.

As a stylist, founder of interiors shop Caravan, and author of several books on interiors and styling, Chalmers has pioneered the whimsical and feminine flea market look of the past few years. Her shop on Redchurch Street, in east London, is the place to find a set of kitsch Bambi statuettes or that toadstool lamp you never knew you needed.

It's quirky and bohemian with a knowing wink of a sense of humour; only Chalmers could get away with selling little ceramic animal milk jugs – elephant and rabbit currently out of stock – and still be considered a style leader. The height of naffness in some circles becomes a witty "conversation piece" in her hands.

In her latest book, Modern Vintage Style, she's brought the trend for rummaging in antiques markets and second-hand shops up to date. She explains how to get the balance right between old and new, so you get the bohemian vibe without turning your home into a junk shop.

"Modern vintage works through a rhythm of unexpected pairings," she explains. "When you choose something vintage, make sure something modern is not far away." In other words, you can keep your modern Ikea sofa, but give it a bit of soul with some cushions made of vintage fabric.

She is keen to point out that it is more of an approach to decorating, rather than a prescribed look, so while the houses featured in the book are not identical, there is a common thread. It's about personalising and customising your space by adding your personality to it. "Mix it up," she says. "Try furniture in different places – use a really decorative lamp in the kitchen. A lot of people wouldn't even think of doing that. They might think, 'I haven't got room for that in my bedroom', but they wouldn't think, 'but I love it, so let's put it in the kitchen'."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chalmers doesn't go shopping for things in a conventional way; she keeps an eye out for things all of the time. Next time you go to a school or church fête, she advises, don't just go thinking you'll buy a raffle ticket, think that you might find some more dinner plates. Or if you're on holiday, you might see some nice tiles that could work well as a splashback.

And while you don't have to get everything at once, it might be wise to put a time limit on your search period. "I lived with disposable cutlery for ages because I couldn't decide what I liked," she recalls. "One evening a fork broke and as I reached for the last one my husband said, 'We really can't wait any longer, Emily, can you please decide'. Usually I'm really quick at making up my mind, but I'd rather not have something than have a compromise."

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