Gen Sohr is a featured Stylemaker in the September 2014 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Here, Gen shares tips for choosing and using vintage pieces.
Hi! I’m Gen Sohr, and I love all things vintage, from Bertoia chairs to Bakelite bracelets. I’m the co-founder (with my darling husband Benjamin) and creative principal for Pencil & Paper Development Co., in Nashville. We renovate old houses, build new ones, and even remake retail stores—anything in need of some creative reimagining.
Here are my favorite rules for when you should go vintage—and when it’s best to buy new. I don’t ever want my spaces to feel like a museum, or as if I am trying to recreate a particular era. It’s about the mix: Old and new together is what I find most interesting.
Truly, I am addicted to the hunt! Nothing compares to spending the day scouring a good flea market and then coming home and cleaning up your treasures. But the thing about vintage is … it finds you. It’s not usually the piece you were hunting for to complete a particular room. But often, it IS the piece that makes the room!
You have to buy what you love when you find it. I never pass up something that speaks to me simply because I don’t need it. I am a believer in buying things as they find me.
Since I have a retail background, where I was in charge of customer experience in stores like Old Navy and Victoria’s Secret, I start by “merchandising” my vintage pieces. I put them in the best, most visible spots in a room. Then I fill in with new pieces where function dictates (and to keep my spaces from feeling like an actual thrift store).
In our master bedroom, I started with a pair of vintage Asian-inspired Lane bedside tables (in my favorite tomato-red). They are the heroes! I love the mix of these vintage finds with the modern Tolomeo desk lamp for bedside reading. For the bed, I wanted something upholstered for comfort, and I didn’t want to break the bank. We opted to keep it simple with this new neutral linen headboard from West Elm.
I think every room needs something that just speaks to you. This is my master closet. I wanted the space to be super clean, white, and functional with great natural sunlight. The simple architecture and well-organized cabinetry is the canvas for this space, but it’s the amazing vintage side table and pair of cut-glass mirrors that make it sing! I rarely buy tables or mirrors that are not vintage treasures because I can get a one-of-a-kind look with them. But for window treatments, I choose something simple, unfussy, and new. This Roman shade allows the vintage pieces to stand out. I often use graphic pattern fabrics in fun colors because they keep my vintage finds feeling fresh and young.
Usually, I recommend purchasing new sofas—both for comfort and sanitary reasons. But sometimes a very special vintage sofa just calls your name, and you have to break the rules. This chrome-framed beauty is such an occasion. I had it recovered in a neutral geometric pattern and had the cushions re-wrapped. Now it’s better than new!
When it comes to vintage clothing, I usually keep mine reserved for special occasions. And, like my vintage furniture, I am not scared to tweak the design of the pieces to feel more current (and figure-flattering). The great thing about buying vintage is that it allows you to become part designer, too. When I wear a vintage dress, I always pair it with a modern clean shoe silhouette (new of course) and some great chunky modern jewelry. Again, it’s always about the mix of new and old together.
And sometimes it is just plain OK to fall more on the vintage side of things. In my children’s desk nook, the desks, chairs, and lamps are all flea-market scores, which could be retro overload! But somehow with the introduction of bright modern art pieces and graphic window treatments, it all just works.
That’s the fun of using vintage pieces in your home and wardrobe: There really are NO Rules! Simply follow your heart and have fun!