How to mix antiques and contemporary pieces in your home
Introducing family heirlooms to a house with a different aesthetic can be a challenge, but designer and decorator Amynta Warde-Aldam has achieved this with aplomb in her Northumberland home. Feature Sara Bird. Photographs Dan Duchars.
Amynta Warde-Aldam’s home serves as the perfect demonstration of her decorating style. Each room is a joyful mix of antiques, pared-back contemporary pieces, bold fabrics, pretty wallpapers and unexpected colour combinations.
Until recently, the house belonged to Amynta’s husband Jamie’s parents. Built in the 1790s, it sits in around an acre of private garden on a country estate that has been in Jamie’s family for generations. Remodelled in the 1980s and decorated in tune with the times, it was in need of updating.
Amynta describes the way the house has been chopped and changed over the years as ‘not entirely sympathetic’, and much of her work has focused on softening some of the harsher aspects.
‘It lost character,’ she explains. ‘Both the staircase and the entrance were moved and it was quite starkly plastered. I wouldn’t usually use so much wallpaper in a house, but it’s a good way to put some character back.’
Amynta describes her aesthetic as late Georgian/Regency. ‘I like the balance and the symmetry of the period – that’s a big part of my signature style, along with details such as grid-hanging pictures, lots of books everywhere and painted floors. But I’m drawn to cool contemporary things, too,’ she says.
Work in London has led her to seek out modern pieces that she mixes with antiques from Judy Greenwood Antiques, wallpapers from David Skinner and fabrics from Jean Monro, though much of the furniture is inherited.
‘My parents really had no money at all but, back in the 1960s, you could buy pretty Georgian houses in Scotland very cheaply and they went to all these really junky sales and rescued things for pennies. I inherited some nice things from them and I suppose I’ve carried on in that tradition, as I have continued to buy those kinds of things when I see them,’ she adds.
‘I buy brown furniture and paint it black; the polite term is ‘ebonise’ but it’s still just black paint really,’ she says. ‘And, if you don’t do it too perfectly, it looks like it’s been that way for a long time.’
Recently, Amynta has found herself drawn to pieces from the Aesthetic Movement, noting how affordable they are in salerooms. ‘I love the carving and you can go mad with the upholstery on seating,’ she explains.
Being smart with the pennies extends to the fitted furniture in the house, which looks deceptively hand-crafted. The shelves that line the library came from Maisons du Monde, later customised with a coat of paint, while the kitchen cabinetry came from a local hardware store.
‘We really haven’t spent serious money on anything in this house, apart from pictures,’ she says. The house is full of clever contrasts: quietly decorated areas, such as the hallway and pantry, lead onto busily patterned rooms filled with block-print cushions and highly decorative wallpaper.
When it comes to colour, Amynta has discovered that the grey northern light can create spectacular effects, but it needs warmth to fall on. For wallpaper and fabrics, she often turns to her friend, designer Charlotte Gaisford, while paint generally comes through another friend, Victoria Whitbread of British Colour Standard. ‘It’s funny because I’ve never started a house from scratch,’ says Amynta. ‘I’ve always had something to work around and I realise I tend to take the same greens and pinks with me everywhere I go, partly because I like to match to my carpets.’
The drawing room
Fabric is one of Amynta’s great passions. She is especially fond of her Jean Monro chintzes and is a keen collector of vintage textiles, picking up pieces at trade sales such as the Déballage in Béziers, and from dealers such as Starched & Crumpled. ‘I like to cover sofas with antique French quilts and I use the smaller pieces for cushions,’ she says.
Amynta also collects Victorian papier mâché trays and turquoise china of all eras, but most of her favourite pieces are inherited, with personal memories attached. ‘There is a bell pull that came from the house in Scotland where I grew up,’ she says. ‘My parents separated and both died quite young so there were two houses and two collections that I split with my brother, and I have worked around these things ever since.’
Amynta remembers the little music cabinet in the hall from when she was a tiny baby. ‘My parents kept their records in it and there was a record player in the little drawer at the bottom. It’s funny, these are the things you drag around with you your entire life but it’s really quite lovely to do that.’
Christmas is very family orientated, with her children returning as well as Jamie’s siblings and their families. Last year they were 15 for dinner. ‘Having the estate on the doorstep means it’s easy to grab some ivy from our woods to drape around pictures and table settings, but we have shrunk our Christmas tree habits since we moved here,’ she says. ‘We used to decorate a 20-foot tree. Now we just look for the teeniest one we can find!’