Modern heritage style: How to make ‘old meets new’ work in your home

It’s a trend that works beautifully for most styles of homes.

June 23rd 2022

Modern heritage style: How to make ‘old meets new’ work in your home
bedroom and living room side by side, both decorated and furnished in modern heritage style
‘It creates a beautiful dance between traditional and modern design’ (Picture: Getty)

Our Instagram feeds are full of beautiful-looking homes that effortlessly combine traditional features and antiques – with modern patterns, art work and appliances.

Old meets new is a stunning look, if you get it right. 

This ‘modern heritage style’ – which is usually characterised by wall paneling, historic paint colours and patterns, sitting alongside contemporary pieces and surrounds – is very much on the rise. 

But you don’t need to live in a home with lots of traditional features to achieve this. Whether you’re in a Victorian terrace or a detached new build, there are ways of styling that will allow you to create a feature-filled yet contemporary home.

What is modern heritage style?

First of all, what does this term really mean?

‘Modern heritage style mixes traditional British design elements, such as wood panelling, rich autumnal colour palettes and patterned wallpaper, with contemporary accents in art, decorative objects, and furniture shapes,’ explains Wren Loucks, CEO and creative director of interior design studio Be-kin

‘For example, imagine sitting in a deep-set Howard-style armchair, upholstered in a soft cotton-linen Claremont fabric. 

‘An antique oak sideboard is to your left, covered in art books and small decorative objects, and above it is a piece of modern artwork that is strong, bold, and geometric. 

‘The artwork is the “modern touch” – and it adds a burst of energy through the aesthetic tension it creates with the more traditional design features. This tension is the essence of the modern heritage style.

‘When modern heritage style is done well, it creates a beautiful dance between traditional and modern design, adding energy and a sense of unexpected playfulness to a room.’

big window with shutters and an antique tables and chairs in front of it
You don’t need original features – but it does help… (Picture:  Athina Kontos / Be-kin projects by Wren Loucks)
 Empty Black Wall Panel with Wooden Chair
Wall paneling is a classic feature of Modern Heritage style (Pictures: Getty Images)
white panelled living room with green velvet sofa and scatter cushions
A more subtle take on the trend (Picture: Getty)

Modern heritage is about being high on style but big on comfort – according to Avalana Simpson, the creative director of Avalana Design.

‘It’s a relaxed take on the luxury of the English country manorhouse with modern design, bringing historical Britain into the current interiors space,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. 

The look isn’t just a style reserved for those living out in the countryside, though. 

She adds: ‘It’s a trend that works beautifully for most styles of homes, which means it’s really popular as it is accessible to the masses.’

Why it’s so popular now 

Sites like Instagram and Pinterest have a lot to do with it, as we are all constantly exposed to images of beautiful homes, decked out in this style.  

‘Modern heritage style enhances the original and historical features of a property while also introducing modern and contemporary elements to enhance its original design,’ says Matt Siberry, head of home at Pinterest.

‘On Pinterest, we’ve recently seen this interiors trend soar in popularity as people seek inspiration to renovate Victorian houses in a way that pays tribute to the old, while bringing in the new.

‘We’ve seen an increase in searches related to the modern heritage style, including panelled walls, modern Victorian interior design and modern traditional.’ 

Year-on-year Pinterest searches for terms relating to 'modern heritage style':

  • ‘Panelled walls’ + 95%
  • ‘Floral wallpaper’ + 20%
  • ‘Floor to ceiling bookshelves’ + 20%
  • ‘Traditional’ + 10%
  • ‘Modern traditional’ + 20%
  • ‘Modern british colonial style’ + 15%
  • ‘Pink pattern wallpaper’ + 30%
  • ‘Striped wallpaper’ + 45%
  • ‘Floral wallpaper’ + 20%
  • ‘Victorian homes’ + 15%
  • ‘Old Victorian homes interior’ + 2.5x
  • ‘Modern victorian decor’ + 20%
  • ‘Modern victorian interior design’ + 95%
  • ‘Modern victorian’ + 20%
  • ‘Victorian living room’ + 60%

*Based on UK searches week ending 4 June 2021 vs. week ending 3 June 2022

But it can work in other styles of homes as well – and has a lot to do with the feeling that it evokes, and the principles behind the sustainability of it.  

‘Modern heritage style stimulates a sense of ease and relaxation for many people, which is why so many are trying to create it within their home,’ says Wren.

colourful bathroom with floral wallpaper and a mint green sink unit
There are ways of bringing in aspects of the trend, while still feeling very modern and playful (Picture: Getty)
Rustic bathroom with a rolltop bath
A rustic look, Modern Heritage bathroom (Picture: Getty Images/Image Source)

‘It also invites a sense of play because it relies on many decorative layers to achieve the look – so you can keep adding to and adjusting it, unlike a very minimalist style which is much more refrained in its curation.

‘It has a sense of informality about it, which creates a relaxed interior mood. 

‘Consumers are also very aware of the role they play in climate change and want to spend their money on ethical, sustainable products.

‘The fact that modern heritage style works best when using antiques and repurposing existing furniture, makes it a very ethical design style.’ 

How to get the look in your home 

‘You can achieve the authentic Victorian look by preserving the most intricate period characteristics of a property – including its wooden beams, bay windows and even stained-glass front door,’ suggests Matt. 

‘Bright colours and patterns are so on trend today and also look amazing when combined with Victorian features for the “old meets new” feel.

‘We recommend incorporating rich colour and patterns into the home and adding antique furnishing touches to achieve the perfect modern heritage style.’

And the experts are in agreement that playing with pattern, colour, features and ‘set dressing’ is the name of the game.

‘If you have low-level wood panelling in the hall, paint it a dark historical colour and install patterned wallpaper above,’ suggests Wren. ‘For example, Hamilton Weston have a wallpaper collection called “historic” which has some beautiful options. Decorate the wall with modern artwork, which you could hang in a “salon style.”‘

She also suggests thinking of each table and sideboard surface, as an opportunity to create a tablescape.

Bedroom with dark green panelled wall and a bed and bedside table
Layers are important and helpful to build the look you want (Picture: Getty images)
white chalk brick wall with two prints hanging on it, with a green sideboard in front, hosting a vase with pampas grass
Repurpose existing furniture and buy antiques (Picture: Getty images)

She adds: ‘A tablescape is an assortment of objects, mindfully curated. It could be a collection of art books, with their spines on display, and nearby a beautiful modern vase overflowing with tulips. 

‘Mix in table lamps with fabric shades. Table lamps have a traditional feel about them, and low-level light creates a relaxed mood.

‘Repurpose existing furniture and buy antiques. Avoid high-street shops, with modern furniture designs that are easily recognisable.’

The use of colour is important

The colour palette you use, as well as how you pair with other colours and patterns, will play a large part in the success of this look.

‘Historic rich paint colours from the archives such as golds, moss greens and royal blues are lifted to create more of a wow factor, and take centre stage as opposed to a muted back seat,’ advises Avalana. 

‘Try introducing a livened-up palette of sunset yellow, botanical greens and teal.

Rreception room in Siobhan Murphy's house featuring bespoke mural design on every wall - even the ceiling
The reception room in Siobhan Murphy’s house features Avalana’s bespoke mural design on every wall – even the ceiling – and is modern heritage, from a fresh maximalist point of view. (Picture: Pique Portraits)

‘Wallpaper provides an ideal choice for bringing bold pattern and dramatic colour to feature walls or entire rooms – designs which reproduce Victorian botanical prints or busy florals, for example, draw the eye and add interest.’ 

However, she advises that to evoke modern heritage, these prints should be reimagined with fresh maximalism and complemented by modern artwork and prints.

The golden rules of modern heritage:

Wren’s tips –

  • Be mindful of pattern scale and mix it up. Don’t keep all the patterns the same scale in a room.
  • Think about colour harmony and flow, and then every once in a while, add in something that creates tension.
  • Use antiques – patinas add authenticity to this style.
  • Avoid buying new objects designed to look like antiques. There are so many incredible antiques out there, that will add authenticity to your design scheme.

According to Avalana – 

  • Use the ceiling: As more homeowners get braver and bolder with colours and patterns, they are also exploring using the ceiling as the fifth wall in their property to create the illusion of space and create a continuation of the scheme. 
  • Opt for antique furniture that tells a story: Creating a luxurious backdrop to a space using heritage paints, time-honoured wallcoverings will pay homage to a splash of antique furniture and treasured home decor items from times gone by.
  • Panel perfect: For those who thought paneling would go out of fashion just as quickly as it arrived will be shocked to see it prevail here. It offsets the room perfectly and you should also consider large, undulating cornice mouldings to emphasise the height of your rooms.

Key things to take away:

When asked if there are any dos and don’ts, Wren says that, first and foremost, you should have fun with it.

‘Be mindful of how each room flows into the next,’ she adds.

‘If you are completely redecorating your home, it’s a good idea to begin with an overall concept design to provide you with clear direction from the start, which includes a colour palette for each space.

‘Remember that decorative layers create this aesthetic – so once you have your key furniture pieces, then think about lighting, then think about decorative objects and art.

‘Work and think in design layers.’

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(Source : https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/23/everything-to-know-about-modern-heritage-style-and-how-to-achieve-it-16777484/)