Vintage And Retro Interior Design Inspiration


Imprinting your personality on a place while staying true to a property’s authentic roots can be a challenge. Laura Henderson meets three owners reinterpreting the past with quite exceptional results in interior design.

Vintage and retro glamour have long carried sway in the annals of good design, yet the million dollar challenge still remains: how to play the ‘original features’ trump card when restyling your home without it looking too ‘done’. “The joy of renovating an older property is the scope for playing up its existing assets,” explains French property guru, Sarah Francis: “The key, however, is to treat these features appropriately. Beams for example are at their best when kept bare and cleaned down to add real vintage charm. The same applies with natural flooring, which, if well looked after will last a lifetime and never date.”

A veritable treasure trove of period pieds a terres and regal restorations; France is the perfect stomping ground for aficionados of old school design. A case in point close to the historic city of Toulouse is Bel Ombre, the traditional maison de maitre of retired investment consultant, Daniel Martin. Dating back to 1794, and sympathetically renovated, the downstairs suite of rooms shows its period features to optimum effect-from the oak wood flooring and “caisson” ceilings to the reclaimed marble fireplaces and full-height French windows. A family favourite, the intimate double aspect sitting room has been given a new lease if life with the introduction of bold colours-peacock blue walls encircled by a painted wood wainscot, with heavy wood mouldings and peach trim on the classic four-panel doors. Everything about the family home exudes a restrained luxury, although as Martin explains, this wasn’t always the case. “The property was a sad affair in the beginning-a virtual shell. Our first step was to let the outside light in and re-instate the sealed windows for the first time in 200 years.”

An expert hand at serial renovations, a degree of sensitivity, Martin adds, is required in relation to the age of the house: “Although we were pretty much working with a blank canvas in each room, we always kept a sense of ‘the look of that time’. In the salon, we chose a durable but elegant 18th century marble floor and tested several colour options before settling for a sumptuous gris perle Italian stucco for the walls, which we felt complemented the vintage white marble fireplace with its red and green inlays.” Proportions should also be considered from the outset. He adds: “Placing marble pilasters at either side of the central section of our salon, together with a large antique mirror above the fireplace were simple but highly effective techniques for amplifying the room’s impressive proportions and easy ideas to replicate elsewhere.”

An authority destination when it comes to cool styling; warehouse renovations in downtown Miami are catching the wave of demand for unapologetically modern real estate with a vintage twist, with developers customising both commercial and residential units for luxury living.  Located in the heart of South Beach and originally a commercial building back in the 1900s, the one and two-bedroom industrial-chic loft conversions owned by Paul Joseph, boast 12-foot warehouse ceilings, original Deco industrial columns and oversized widows. “Having a large open living space creates areas for entertaining, working and sleeping,” he explains. “But it’s a renovation style that’s embracing the past while being in tune with the present day way of life-the whole idea being you can conduct business at home, with a blurring of work-play boundaries.”

Simple structural accents: 4 x 4 posts steel posts retain the semi-industrial feel. Recessed display cases in the lounge area, previously a small wall, have been seized by Joseph as an opportunity for display space-three cubes lit with small halogen lights now a feature of the living area. Polished concrete floors also express the old-school look, while the bathrooms are oversized featuring frameless glass, with natural stone on both the walls and floors to create a low-key atmosphere.

Drawing design inspiration from the island’s castaway heritage roots, estate homes on the Caribbean haven of Barbados continue to celebrate the destination’s rich colonial past-Great House designs preserving old-school architectural traditions that remain as popular as ever today. One such gem is The Coral Reef Club (www.coralreefbarbados.com). Set amongst 12 acres of lush gardens festooned with tropical glamour on the island’s fabled Platinum coast, this former plantation estate, the focal point of which is an 88 room boutique hotel, has been run by the O’Hara family for over 50 years. “It was my father, Edward ‘Budge’ O’Hara, who oversaw the hotel for over 30 years until he died in 1995, who set the tone,” explains co-owner and Managing Director, Karen Capaldi. “His vintage vision has the same voracity today as it did in the 1950s.”

Take a tour of the serene and green beachfront estate and first impressions are of a timeless, elegant but unstuffy family-run hideaway, the property’s classically proportioned elevations sitting under a hipped shingle roof, while the louvered windows, ceiling fans and tall Demerara windows lend a distinctly colonial feel. Loaded with casual elegance the layout of the hotel is guest-friendly, with communal open-plan areas made for lots of entertaining, sporting a cosy, unpretentious feel. “Upgrading the hotel’s luxury Plantation suites at the beginning of the year was a seminal moment, not to mention fun to do,” Capaldi enthuses. “Seasoned visitors to the island put a lot of store by an authentic living environment - the suites epitomise this - the ultimate in luxury accommodation but with a palpable home-from-home feel.”


Taking on the interior refurb and delivering the four suites to their former Caribbean splendour is award winning London based interior designer, Helen Green (www.helengreendesign.com), her many makeover accolades including a super yacht, luxury ski chalet in Val d’Isere, designer suites at The Berkeley, Knightsbridge and ambassadorial-style Siddons House at Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park. Each suite complements the hotel’s classical Bajan theme with subtle accent features - sconces and rounded windows - in coral rock with much of the woodwork in ‘pickled’ pine, a whitewash that gives a pleasant and light effect. Individual interior layouts comprise a light, and airy bedroom, with separate dressing area fitted with floor-to-ceiling lattice-work wardrobes, a step-down roomy salon and bespoke design bathroom with rain shower, freestanding roll top bath, raised sinks and granite and marble countertops. Statement his and hers mirrors adorn the walls on either side of the bath, overshooting lower-level storage for a less regimented feel, while mahogany tester beds and period antique furniture complete the muted, restorative scene. And of course each penthouse has an expansive ‘gallery’ area of outdoor space.

“Progressive renovations like Coral Reef are particularly rewarding from a materials point of view,” explains Green: “There’s such a rich source of raw product here in Barbados, from versatile sandstone and coral to limestone for decorative details and architectural accents. Colour themes have a huge bearing on the finished look too. For this particular project, it was all about embracing a calmer, reflective palette - duck egg blue, neutrals and rich greens on a base of gold and mid and dark browns, while retaining the essence of the location through the choice of furniture, decorative pieces and fabrics. For me, the litmus test of a good interior is being able to instantly identify the location from your surroundings: one that echoes the outside world through a subtle and suggestive design aesthetic. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in giving living space identity – but the rewards almost always compensate for the journey.”

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