Top tips to update vintage design styles

Modern interior design tastes and trends have a renewed appreciation for all things vintage
A muted colour palette highlighting vintage design

Whether it’s driven by the desire to re-use and recycle pre-loved furniture and fittings, or you have an old home you want to breathe new life into, looking back at vintage designs can be a rich source of design creativity.

To avoid pastiche and simply imitating the past, or ending up with clashing styles, the trick is to take what you love about vintage style and bring it up to date to suit modern colour trends and lifestyles.

Read on to see our 4 ideas on how to update vintage design styles for today.

Living room with modern vintage design
The style and jewel colours of this furniture help set the tone for this room and take it back in time while retaining modern freshness. The bookshelf wall is painted in Resene Infused, floor in Resene Colorwood Breathe Easy.

Do your research

A good tip for celebrating your home’s vintage style, while updating it for modern taste is to do some research about what was on trend when your house was built.

If you’re not completely sure of the exact age or design history of your home the building itself can give you clues, from the shape of the architraves and window frames, detailing on doors and ceilings, layers of old wallpaper or floor tiles and vinyl all start to tell you the story of your home.

When you have a picture of your home’s history, start to put together a mood board or Pinterest collection of ideas and images that can help you design a modern interior that still pays tribute to the building’s origins.

A fresh facelift

When it comes to modernising an older home while keeping in tune with its heritage, Resene Colour Expert Meryl Southey suggests starting with a neutral muted colour palette.

Try soft oaty or creamy whites like Resene Rice Cake or Resene Creme De La Creme instead of stark bright whites, Meryl says. Other shades to try are beige tones like Resene Double Truffle, muted blues and greens like Resene Half Washed Green, and Resene Double Duck Egg Blue.

“Muted colours for the base scheme, which are neither too traditional nor too radically modern, will bring a sense of the contemporary to a traditional home without confusing styles,” she says.

“Paint the walls, trim and architraves in a room in one neutral shade, using a durable, higher gloss such as Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss waterborne enamel paint to subtly draw attention to it.

“Add a bolder dark neutral like Resene Boris or Resene Fuscous Grey on the doors so they become architectural features. This combination will give a modern, sophisticated look that can be updated with pops of colour, pattern and texture.”

Adding that texture could come in the form of a geometric rug, a patterned wallpaper such as the bold graphic design of Resene Wallpaper Collection 2311-173-04 or painting a vintage chair in a brighter colour like Resene Thunderbird, she says.

A muted palette living room with fireplace
A muted palette lets heritage features such as this fireplace shine in a more modern context. The wall is painted in Resene Triple Black White, floor in Resene Colorwood Breathe Easy, fireplace in Resene Half Black White.

Furniture finishes

Meryl suggests the semi-gloss of Resene Lustacryl water-based enamel as a good choice for upcycled chairs because the slight gloss will make more modern, brighter colours pop against neutrals, and it is a hard-wearing finish on high-use pieces.

On surfaces where you might want a softer, more suede-like finish try Resene Room Velvet which offers a more durable low-sheen finish, perfect for modern whites like Resene Alabaster. The crisper white contrasts nicely with muted shades to give the room a lift in light and energy.

When painting older furniture Meryl suggests trying the Karen Walker Chalk Colour range available from Resene ColorShops, tinted to your chosen colour, then adding modern decor accents like a sleek metal lamp or highlight an existing lamp with a Resene FX Metallic testpot.

The matte finish of the Karen Walker Chalk Colour with the shimmer of the metallic creates a unique and eclectic look, which combines the charm of the past with the sophistication of the present, and is quick and easy to achieve, with a minimum amount of paint,” she says.

Retro-looking dining area
Modern botanical shades add a modern touch to this simple retro-looking dining area. The cork floor tiles have a painted border in Resene Top Notch. The wall is painted in Resene Eighth Bison Hide.

Apply Karen Walker Vintage Wax over the painted chalk colour coats to give your piece a subtle patina of age, or simply use Karen Walker Soft Wax to give the piece a protective layer and a velvety finish.

Top tip

Vintage wallpaper

One way to evoke a certain vintage-era look for an interior, while keeping to modern colour palettes and sensibilities is through Resene wallpaper.

Wallpaper itself has had something of a design revival in recent years as more of us realise it is a simple way to add dramatic works of art to interiors that completely change the look and feel of a room.

For example if you have an Art Deco-era home try celebrating that heritage with the elegant fan shapes of Resene Wallpaper Collection 103824268, for some elegant ’80s-style maximalism try the golden opulence of Resene Wallpaper Collection 387064 and for mid-century modernism try the muted geometrics of Resene Wallpaper Collection SUM104.

Today’s wallpaper designs take great inspiration from past eras while celebrating our modern aesthetic. Whatever era you are trying to celebrate in your home, there is a wallpaper to suit, whether it’s used through a whole room, on a feature wall or small accent areas.

If you’re having trouble putting together a cohesive colour palette for your home, a Resene wallpaper can be a good place to start. Find a pattern you love that suits your vision, and lift complementary and analogous colours from that, as the basis of your Resene paint colours.

1920s styled living room with a floral wallpaper
Choosing a dramatic wallpaper can instantly evoke a certain period feel for your room. The bold leaf print is Resene Wallpaper Collection 228881.

When paying tribute to a vintage design in a whole room, or a single piece of furniture don’t lose sight of what you like. The best way to breathe new life into something is to stay true to its origins while adding your own personal flair.

Visit your local Resene ColorShop for all the quality paints, wallpapers and colours you need for your project.  If you need more helping choosing just the right colours for your place, book in a colour consultation with a Resene Colour Expert, virtually, instore or at your place.  Simply visit to book.  Or use the free Resene Ask a Colour Expert service,

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