When Vintage Meets Modern
Julia Buckingham’s design style is an exuberant mix of antique finds and modern treasures, a come-hither blend of heart and art.
This story is found in the Summer 2019 edition of Park City Home.
No two Julia Buckingham rooms look the same, and yet the Chicago-based designer’s aesthetic is unmistakable, evident in a tufted lavender sofa, an acrylic table, and a collection of African drums living side-by-side. She calls her design philosophy “Modernique” (also the name of her 2018 Harry Abrams book as well as her home furnishings store in Phoenix), and the result is warm, livable spaces that seduce your eyes and make them linger. Walk into the historic schoolhouse she’s decorated, or the swanky lounge area of an urban penthouse, and one thing’s for sure: You’ve never seen anything like it.
You can snag pieces of her look at her Global Views line of furnishings, available at retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Horschow. Or take it for a spin yourself.
The birth of a name
Buckingham says her proclivity for blending vintage, antique, and modern pieces came naturally. “It’s always how I saw important rooms and spaces being put together.” But she can trace the moment that truly cemented her style to the day seven years ago when she was invited to be a keynote speaker at North Carolina’s High Point furniture market. “A couple of dealers had the idea of placing a large antiques market right in the middle of High Point, and it made so much sense — why not have antiques for the buyers to look at, as well as new pieces?” She continues, “When I got off the phone after accepting the invitation, I panicked—I asked my husband how I was ever going to organize a speech. He said, ‘Of course you’re going to call your talk modernique.’ That’s when I realized I’d found a name for what I do. It’s an aesthetic of mixing pieces you have, vintage finds, and modern furnishings.”
Start with what you love
How to bring that aesthetic into your space? Buckingham says it starts with a very simple question: What do you own that you love? “It’s what I ask during my first meeting with a client. They might point to an inherited piece, something they’ve found on their travels, even a favorite photograph or piece of art. I use that as my starting point and build the room around it.” Not that every piece of furniture will ultimately stay. “When I’m touring a new client’s home they’ll often ask, ‘Where should I put this piece?’ And I’m thinking they should put it on the curb. I don’t want anyone to feel that it isn’t their house, but I’ve had people say ‘Stack anything of ours you don’t like by the back door,’ and by the time they get home, they can’t get through the door.”
Buckingham says there are no hard-and-fast rules when incorporating styles from multiple design periods, but she says you do need to be careful that there aren’t too many disparate moods. Balance is key, as is giving heavier furniture a jolt of lightness and energy. “I start with core pieces. If it’s a dark piece, you might want to lighten it up by adding something marble or lacquered. In fact, I generally suggest lacquering old Victorian and mahogany pieces — it transforms them while maintaining the original lines.” She takes a similar approach with upholstery, using unexpected materials that give traditional pieces a zippy new life. “I’ll reupholster a vintage French Bergere chair with a fantastic modern fabric for a beautiful contrast. I’m really attracted to pieces that have a patina, placed next to something shiny or lacquered.” She’s used everything from vintage serapes to Hermes scarfs for one-of-a-kind oomph.
Prowling the markets
Buckingham casts a wide net when searching for vintage treasures. “I’ve found things everywhere from Craigslist to Palm Springs design shops. Antique malls are always worthwhile, because each dealer has a different aesthetic. Sometimes you’ll find a real treasure that the antiques pickers haven’t recognized.” She also loves destination antiques markets. “At some of them, a cannon signals the opening, and people rush in like a horde of ants.” Among her favorites: Brimfield, Massachusetts (“field after field of antiques”) and Round Top, Texas.
Wherever you shop, remember that horrid fabrics often hide real gems. Buckingham remembers the one that got away. “A gentleman who did a lot of finishing for me found a pair of 1940s French chairs, two little thrones with backs carved in the shape of a fig leaf, covered in yucky pink damask. I had them upholstered in a multicolored Jonathan Adler fabric, and they ended up in the home of the new Chicago Bears coach. I subsequently reproduced them for Global Views, but I’ve always regretted selling the originals.”
Park City is known more for ski jackets than vintage mirrors, but the sharp-eyed shopper knows there are treasures to be found. Here’s where to look:
Nyman’s Ski and Mercantile
Hollywood stylist Bron Roylance has an extraordinary side business: building one-of-a-kind mountain homes prized as much for their architectural integrity as for their blend of modern luxuries and standout vintage pieces. His 1,500-foot retail space in Orem is chock-full of treasures, including old pie cabinets, 1890s armoires, leather club chairs, Navajo rugs, ski run signs, antique wooden doors, century-old wooden benches, aged pane windows, even worn-in cowboy boots. It’s the ultimate resource for anyone who wants to add a dash of authentic Western spirit to a home.
1313 800 N., Orem
Right at Home
If your parents were inveterate collectors with a warehouse-sized attic and tastes that were as eclectic as they were elegant, you’d have an idea of what you’d find inside this favorite Park City emporium. Owner Marion Boland stocks an ample array of charming gift items (candleholders, paper goods, dinnerware), but even more enticing are the eccentric finds on consignment, from antler chandeliers to stoneware jugs, Lucite chairs to vintage Christmas ornaments. For antiques-loving adults who crave the thrill of discovery, this is Disneyland without the rides.
1745 Bonanza Dr., Park City
Playing against type
Many people who buy a colonial home tend toward traditional, classic décor; those who move into a Southwestern adobe often opt for rustic woods and cowboy regalia. Buckingham says the projects she loves the most take the opposite tack. “I love when you see the exterior structure, walk in, and are completely surprised.” In a chalet-style mountain home, that might mean white walls and modern art, a blend of modern and classic furnishings, and maybe a touch of Palm Springs. “I would bring in some acrylic, pieces with an essence of bamboo or leafy palms, something with an outdoorsy, sunny feel. Think about a tufted Chesterfield sofa in peacock blue with a yellow striped pillow. And instead of stone walls, I’d add wallpaper flecked with mica chips or glass beads, or a grass cloth with rivets and patterns.”
Texture is everything
The surfaces in a Buckingham interior range from slick and polished to nubby and imperfect, often paired together. “Texture is everything. When I upholster in multiple fabrics — the back of the sofa will be different than the cushions — we keep the textures in line. But if you’re working with a monochromatic scheme, anything goes, like pairing a cotton linen with a bouclé.” The magic, she says, is in the contrast. “I love the patina of worn gold leaf alongside something sleek. Bling with something bleached and weathered. We recently placed a pair of old wooden fish with the paint worn off on acrylic-and-brass bookshelves, and added a bunch of African stools in different sizes. It looked amazing.”
And then there’s color
Not surprisingly, Buckingham likes to stir things up, color-wise. In addition to a touch of metallic (“I love to have metallic, crystal, glass, or acrylic in a room,”) she says the most important decision to make when choosing a palette is the color combination. “Unexpected pairings of color are my favorite. I love mustard yellow with lilac or aqua. I love chocolate brown with hot pink. We use a lot of navy in kitchens — Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy is my go-to. That, along with charcoal gray, feels fresh and innovative.”
The final touches
One of the most winning features of a Buckingham interior is the unconventional art. She’s framed vintage swimsuits, hung antique doorways, and installed a fiberglass tortoiseshell on a wall. What makes it work, she says, is “The way a collection is put together, and the tonal quality of what’s around it. Take the swimsuits — they are very colorful, so the rest of the room features a midcentury tufted sofa and vibrant glass pieces. The overall vibe is monochromatic and those accents are the pop.” Let the blending begin.
For more stories from this edition, visit the Park City Home special section.
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