There is something of a non sequitur to the term ’vintage design’ in that it is only rarely used to suggest a vintage or retro era. Rather, we have embraced mid-century design icons as contemporary, with pieces such as the Eero Saarinen tulip table still looking fresh at 65, as is Carl Hansen’s Wishbone Chair, which will be 73 this year! Moreover, designers are looking to vintage and antique pieces for their character and quality, where it is the unusual rather than the era typifying item that is sought. Then there is the shifting timeline, where punk is now vintage to anyone under 40, as are the white-on-white 90s interiors to anyone under 20.

These definitions aside, it is what interior designers are doing with vintage pieces that make an impression. In some instances, a single lush rug with intricate traditional patterns will bring a sense of warmth and culture to a setting. Similarly, a grand lighting piece can suggest majesty and opulence. Then, there are the pieces that are simply too divine to leave out. Here, character is key with quirky one-offs that exist beyond the confines of the timeline.

1. Cultiver Showroom

YSG Studio
Photography by Prue Ruscoe.

With a backdrop of colours reminiscent of historic Italian buildings and loggias, patterned floors and arched doorways, there is already a timelessness to this beautiful space. “The brief was to be complementary to their colours and its brand, which is all about feeling at home, soft and feminine,” says YSG Studio principal Yasmine Ghoniem.

Upstairs, curves continue to take precedence with an arched recess in one wall, which is painted a shade of warm salmon terracotta, expanding the room’s depth and reflecting the floor’s tone. Compounding the sense of home, a selection of vintage objects, rugs and furniture, including softly curved dining chairs, and a travertine table with rounded edges, have been paired with Cultiver’s natural linens.

2. Zjoosh

Mr Waller
Photography courtesy of Mr Waller.

Context is key to instilling a vintage piece with the intent of the design language. Here, an exceptional vintage chandelier tells the story of this brand in a single stroke. As Laura Box writes, “Upon entering the Zjoosh Bondi Junction store, four and a half metre high ceilings are amplified by a dramatic vintage bronze chandelier, an embellished element that strongly references the Zjoosh style.” Effectively signalling the brand’s Parisienne aesthetics, the chandelier, while large, is delicate and unusual.

“We know [the client] is going to layer the interiors with their product, and their product can be quite ornate. So we need to hit the balance where we reference that and present that well but also pull back and have a cleaner aesthetic that isn’t competing with the product,” says Mr Waller principal, Andrew Waller, who painted the store a light Dior grey to create a soft background.

3. TMK

Charlie & Rose
Photography courtesy of Charlie & Rose.

Signalling Japanese punk rock, grunge, futurism, kabuki, and WW1 Japanese graphics, the Charlie and Rose interior is unabashedly spectacular. Starting with a deep dive into punk rock, the space is filled with punk paraphernalia, including pop art stickers, graffiti, full-sized robots and a giant custom Japanese motorcycle. Here, every wall, ceiling and door is covered in images, prints, text and graffiti – which patrons are encouraged to add to. 

“We wanted to develop a contemporary Japanese concept that would go beyond the minimal safe norm,” says Charlie & Rose founder and designer Ben McCarthy, adding, “This was a liberating project for us because the concept is so dynamic, and there was a lot of room for expressive freedom.” However, take a close look at the design and see the designer’s attention to detail. Indeed, amid the cacophony, the chef’s space is meticulously organised. Similarly, the seating is visually unobtrusive, sparse, clean and perfectly arranged. It is this pairing of the crazy with the calm that makes this interior function so well while being a whole lot of fun.

4. Smith St Bistrot

Anthology Studio
Photography by Alex Squadrito.

Everything in this project is vintage or references an era from the restoration of the heritage façade to mirrored walls and classic Thonet No. 18 bentwood chairs. Indeed, entry to the restaurant is through wrought iron gates, distressed timber doors and custom feature lights. It is grand on a grand scale and then some.

“At Smith St Bistrot, I wanted to bring to life an art deco fantasy using design to depict what a classic Bistrot would feel like in film, envisioning a dramatic romance unfolding over a late-night dinner,” says Sarah Townson, founder and director at Anthology Studio. Interestingly, while the design nods to the art deco era, there are very few recognisable art deco motifs. “We designed for an emotion, which is different to traditional Australian designers who design for an aesthetic.”

5. Bellevue-Oberoi

Architecture Discipline
Photography by Jeetin Sharma.

As Jan Henderson asks, “Could a restaurant be more perfectly placed than positioned facing that most romantic of iconic structures, the Taj Mahal in Agra, India?” Akshat Bhatt, principal architect and his team at Architecture Discipline have created a timeless concept that balances heritage with contemporary design in classic proportion.

Originally built in 2001, for the 2021 refurbishment, it was decided that heritage aspects such as the Thassos marble and red sandstone floor would stay. The interior that references the Taj Mahal was also revisited, but as a single monolithic expanse that delivers walls, ceilings and columns.

“Our refurbishment of Bellevue adopts a language responsive to today’s changing palates, with a decor scheme inspired by the elegance of the Taj. Filled with natural light during the day and the subtle glow of the chandeliers at night, the restaurant is a truly memorable space.”

6. Vestiaire Collective

Les Bâtisseurs
Photography by Victor Grandgeorge.

Specialising in vintage haute couture and retro chic, Vestiaire Collective is the leading global platform (app) for pre-loved luxury fashion. “Transforming a classic ‘Haussmannian’ building into an eco-designed, inclusive and disruptive new space was a challenge, but the result exceeded our expectations,” say Vestiaire Collective co-founder Fanny Moizant, president, and Sophie Hersan, fashion director.

Mirroring the company’s eye for curation and a partnership with the second-hand design platform, Selency, the workspace boasts a selection of iconic design. Pieces by Michel Ducaroy, Pierre Paulin, Charlotte Perriand and Patrick Seguin provide the primary focus, while traditional office desks are replaced with sleek Vitra reeditions of timeless Eames and Bouroullec designs. The pairing effectively returns understated elegance to the workplace.

7. P Johnson Tailors

Tamsin Johnson
Photography by Glen Allsop.

Designing the Soho store of P Johnson Tailors to be more akin to a private home with no direct reference to shopping, Tamsin Johnson has created a world of domestic nuance and warmth. “I want people to feel like they can and should hang around,” she adds.

“People come to make meaningful wardrobe additions rather than to ‘shop’ in the pass-time sense of it, so the store needs to create a beautiful theatre for it.” Well known for her loving use of vintage items, she has brought French 1970s lighting, LC7 Corbusier seating and artwork by Bill Henson and Antonie Tapies to the project. “The Tapies and Kapoor works are really some of my long-term favourite art pieces and such great antitheses of one another, yet utterly harmonious,” she adds.

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