Stunning examples of heritage-style spaces designed for modern living

By Selina Lake

Stunning examples of heritage-style spaces designed for modern living
Designing, decorating and styling heritage-style living rooms involves combining the grandeur of a bygone era with the informality of modern living.

I recommend starting with the walls – consider heritage paint colours, raw or natural plaster finishes or smart panelling. Next think about flooring. Sanding down and/or painting an existing wooden floor is a budget-friendly idea, which will allow you to invest in rugs.

Then add some comfortable seating – a sofa, or a collection of armchairs and pouffes if the space is small. If you are renting, the sofa will be your starting point, as you can take it with you when you move. 

Retro mood

‘Everything old is new again,’ as the saying goes, and this trendy space certainly echoes that sentiment. Its owners, Jessie Cutts and Ivo Vos, have taken a slow and steady approach to the renovation of their Georgian mansion terrace in Ramsgate, Kent.

Most of the items in their living room are second-hand or homemade. Jessie and Ivo tend to accumulate items from various sources and then pull them together, rather than shopping for everything in one go.

Their retro sideboard, found locally at an antiques shop, provides useful storage and a surface on which to display treasured objects.

The comfortable sofa, which they bought second-hand, was designed by Robin Day for Habitat in the 1960s. Making new curtains for the floor-to-ceiling French windows would have required a huge amount of fabric, so instead Jessie tracked down two pairs of extra-long, extra-wide ochre velvet curtains from eBay and tailored them to fit. 

Character cottage

Heritage style is not reliant upon a home that boasts soaring ceilings and double doors. It can also bring charm and interest to smaller spaces by adopting a modest yet inviting cottage-style aesthetic.

In this home, a tiny sitting room with a chunk taken out of one corner to accommodate the staircase punches above its weight thanks to its calming traditional decor with a slightly retro flavour.

The room‘s original floorboards are painted a rich chocolate brown that manages to simultaneously ground the space while receding into the background, making it feel larger than it really is. Walls were given a coat of Farrow & Ball’s Hardwick White – a subdued grey-green.

To this subtle backdrop, the owner has added vibrant orange details in the shape of light fittings, a 19th-century kilim and a curvy contemporary urn. These pick up the bricks of the fire recess and add a fresh modern note to the snug interior.

Future Heritage 

Contemporary touches, such as the curvaceous terracotta urn on the mantelpiece and the 1960s sofa with its functional fold-down arms, prevent this tiny space from becoming twee. 

An artful mix of rustic pieces, modern shapes and heritage elements pulls this room together. Books are tucked away in a glazed cabinet and built-in shelves below the staircase, while panelling adds texture to the wall behind the sofa.

A simple wooden shelf on brackets, painted the same colour as the wall, acts as a mantelpiece – an idea that‘s inexpensive and easy to recreate over any fireplace opening. The low milking stool and jug of orange physalis (Chinese lanterns) completes a cosy fireside scene. 

Extract from Heritage Style by Selina Lake, published by Ryland Peters & Small ($59.99). Photography by Rachel Whiting, distributed by

heritage style by selina lake book cover



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