After living in three historic homes in a row, ranging in age from 80 to 130 years old, I moved last month into a home so new I had to peel stickers off the windows and refrigerator. I am the first occupant of this very contemporary house, which, once again, I am staging to help sell.
After I field people's initial reactions -- "Why on earth did you do this again?" -- we get to what they really want to know: "From an insider's perspective, which is better -- old house or new?
My answer: both.
While I am a huge fan of the character, craftsmanship (hand-forged nails) and ghost stories of older homes, I also love the energy efficiency (a tankless water heater!), reliable electrical systems, contemporary finishes and fresh-start feeling of new construction.
But the biggest discovery in my serial house-decorating career (besides realizing I would rather be covered in honey and stuck on an anthill than move again) is this: Whether a home is 100 years or 100 days old, it looks and lives better when furnished with something old and something new, as the wedding adage goes.
Old houses need some contemporary features to bring them out of the dusty past, and new houses need a few antiques to give them a foothold in time.
I share this thought with one of my favorite designers, good friend Betty Lou Phillips, whose newest book, "The French Way With Design" (Gibbs Smith), has just arrived.
"I completely agree with you," says Phillips, a Dallas, resident, who then tells me that I am -- and this is by sheer fluke -- on top of the biggest design trend on both sides of the Atlantic. "A new look is emerging, for sure. It's is a mix of Old-World European and midcentury modern."
I tell her, "It wasn't on purpose, I swear. I'm so busy working and keeping my home show-ready that I don't even know what year it is."
She says, "Just a decade ago, designers ... believed architecture should dictate decor choice. We were far more loyal to a look. But no more." As if to prove it, Phillips captures the mixed-era trend beautifully in her new book, the 13th sumptuous installment in her series of French and Italian design books.
"I simply thought staging this modern home with contemporary and Old World furnishings would help it appeal to more buyers," I say. "You know, make the space seem more versatile, help that couple trying picture how grandma's heirloom dining room table would work."
According to Phillips, "More people are moving forward while looking back. If they have a few lovely old pieces, rather than ushering them to the curb, they are putting them with contemporary furnishings."
Since starting her series of design books 15 years ago, Phillips has seen much change. Here are some ways she says today's design is different, and some thoughts on how we can incorporate the new direction in our homes:
Mix it up. "We are definitely mixing more midcentury modern with fine antiques," Phillips says. We're seeing just how well the different eras work together. Social media has given DIY decorators a lot more confidence and made consumers more open minded, she adds.
Antiques unleashed. The trend of the younger people in France abandoning large farmhouses for the suburbs means they're living smaller, but still well. That change not only added a lot of French furniture to the market, but also allowed antiques to break free of their formal associations, Phillips says. They are getting mixed with modern pieces in smaller contemporary settings. This new look has made its way across the Atlantic.
Midcentury gains French foothold. American style is affecting French sensibilities, too. For a long while, the French ignored midcentury modern furniture. "They were shunning any reminders of the war and the occupation of France," Phillips says, "but now they are welcoming it and mixing it with their heirloom pieces."
Easier to say than do. Like haute cuisine, the ingredients and proportions for mixing older period furnishing with modern ones have to be just right. If your home has mostly contemporary pieces, make your next piece an antique. If your decor leans toward the Old World, add something modern, such as a clean-lined, solid-color sofa.
Easy on the pocketbook. By mixing a few heirloom pieces with contemporary items, which tend to be more affordable, home decorators can get a great look for less.
Start with art. Art offers a great way to blend eras. If your home is all modern, an old oil paintings can add a regal note from the past. If your house has mostly older furnishings and antiques, a contemporary painting can make a big splash. "People are loving the flashes of color, whether they understand ... the paintings or not," Phillips says. "Our clients will say, 'I don't get it, but I love it.' "
Contact Marni Jameson via www.marnijameson.com.