Tommy Smythe’s Top Tips for Mixing Old and New Design

Animated HGTV interior designer Tommy Smythe shares how to make antique and contemporary pieces work together  

HGTV interior designer Tommy Smythe

HGTV interior designer Tommy Smythe offers tips on mixing and matching antique and contemporary pieces

Everyone’s favourite interior designer from HGTV’s Sarah 101 was recently in Vancouver at the Interior Design Show West to speak to a packed crowd about how to make antique and contemporary pieces work in the same room.

Look for Links

When you have contrasting objects look for something to link everything together such as a colour or material that you can repeat throughout the entire room. Smythe cites a round art deco side table he found that had elements of white, black, brass, wood, and stone. He used this piece as the basis of the colour scheme for the entire room. “That one little table is doing a really big job because it’s tying everything together,” he says.

Customize Furniture

“When trying to make two items work together, often the contemporary item is the most malleable because you can customize it,” says Smythe.  You can custom order new items in specific sizes, colours, or in materials to work alongside antique items you already own.  

Present Something Old in a Contemporary Way

This tip can be seen throughout much of Smythes’ own work. How about grouping several antique bull’s-eye mirrors in varying sizes up a stairway in place of typical photo frames or selecting an oversized street lantern as the central lighting fixture in a traditional kitchen?   

Paint Old Furniture

First of all, “not all old furniture deserves to be painted,” says Smythe.  “Make sure it doesn’t have too many cracks in it because as soon as you paint a brown piece of furniture white, you see all the cracks.”

Smythe suggests painting pieces that have sculptural details. “Anything that has fluting or leading in the leg, or a faux bamboo element, that kind of stuff always looks great painted because you get the shadow lines,” he says. “And always prime it well first. And failing that, just hire it out; get somebody else to do it!”

Listen to Your Own Taste but Be Patient

“Be brave with it,” says Smthye. “You should love coming home every night. Put the you in your house. The homes that I find the most sad are the ones that aren’t reflective of the people that live there. . . You have to care, and you have to collect your things slowly. I’ve always said that impatience is the immortal enemy of good design. You can’t be impatient; you have to wait for the right piece to come along.”

Find Inspiration from Designers

“If you see a room that you really love, just all out copy it,” says Smthye. “One of my biggest pet peeves are designers who put their work out there and then get their noses out of joint when somebody copies it. To me that is the whole reason for doing it: for sharing ideas. I try to be less crazy and just encourage people to copy everything I do. I want people to copy me!”