Thursday 18 January 2018

Interiors... Something old, something new

It's no longer a cardinal sin to mix vintage and contemporary homeware

The dining area with McIntosh table, acid yellow Panton
plastic chairs and Donna Bates' Parlour lamp hanging above
The dining area with McIntosh table, acid yellow Panton plastic chairs and Donna Bates' Parlour lamp hanging above
McGinnis's kitchen - modern with classic 50s orange bar stools
Bulldog lamp
Patricia McGinnis
The bedroom in McGinnis's house

Eleanor Flegg

I grew up with the idea that old furniture and modern furniture belonged in different houses. Contemporary or classic - that was the choice. And once you'd decided on your orientation, then you were stuck with it. The furniture had to "go with the rest of the house". At most, you could corral the antiques in the living room and allow yourself a modern kitchen. But that was about it.

Thankfully these days wider options are acceptable. Old and new furniture can snuggle quite comfortably together in the same room. So says the interior designer, Patricia McGinnis (below), whose Belfast home shows a happy marriage of contemporary and vintage furniture.

"The house was built in 1961 and nothing had been done to it," she says. "Some of the walls didn't even have plug sockets. I dropped the windows at the front, extended out the back and put in an open-plan sitting and dining room. Because the house was designed in 1960, I was really drawn to post-war furniture. It was sympathetic to the house and most of it didn't cost very much. At the same time, I didn't want the house to become a mid-century shrine. I was making a very modern renovation."

Her McIntosh table belonged to her parents, who had bought it in Manchester in the 60s. Around it, she placed four Panton chairs in acid yellow. The chairs were designed by Verner Panton in the 1960s, when plastic was young, fresh and exciting, and these are still made by Vitra (around €287 A vintage drinks cabinet with a mirrored back and a Formica ledge cost around €347 from Retrorumage in Dublin (

The contemporary pendant over the table is the Parlour lamp designed by Donna Bates ( Bates comes from Derry, where her father was a dairy farmer. "The glass shade of the lamp is the receiving jar from a milking machine," Bates explains. "I grew up on the farm and it's still where I go for inspiration. It's my happy place."

The early Parlour lamps were made with vintage receiving jars, but now Bates has them blown specially. "They use the original moulds to form the glass. I like the idea that something that might just be gathering dust is being used."

McGinnis, whose grandparents also had a dairy farm, finds the lamp resonates with her own experience. The lamp comes in different colours, but the orange fittings on this particular one were powder-coated by request (from €409 at

The kitchen itself is very modern. "I think it gives a bit of a balance to the retro furniture and the furniture pulls it back from being too austere or minimal. It gives it a bit of a sense of humour and keeps it light hearted. Much as I would love to live in a clean, minimal kind of way, I actually like to have things from my life around me," McGinnis says.

The 50s bar stools around the kitchen island are by the Italian company, Ercol and cost €284 from "I was so delighted they had them in tangerine. I have a real thing about orange - it's bright but it doesn't have to be garish and I've combined it with grey throughout the house."

When McGinnis was having orange tiles put into her bathroom, the tiler said the last time he'd "seen tiles like that" was on a cruise ship. "You need to have a thick skin," she explains.

The standard lamp, which looks like copper but is made of plastic, was bought from the Conran shop. McGinnis has combined it with a vintage Ercol chair, a classic wooden design with removable cushions which she has had reupholstered in grey (for the back) with the seating cushion in orange. The chair was rescued from someone who was about to throw it out. "One man's trash is another man's treasure," she says.

Contemporary accessories include a Bulldog lamp by Abigail Ahern, made in ceramic cast in the form of a grumpy looking bulldog (he's probably pissed off at having a frilly lampshade drilled into the top of his head). McGinnis thinks the lamp is the dog's bollix.

"Abigail Ahern is really going against the grain. Where people are shying away from dark colours, she's saying - slap it on! She's got a sense of humour about interiors and the Bulldog lamp personifies that." It costs around €410 from

In 2013, McGinnis and her sister Catherine opened Maven, a shop in Belfast where you can buy a mixture of Scandinavian and Northern Irish design for the home ( "We wanted to stock Northern Irish designers like Derek Wilson. His ceramics are sold throughout the world, but there was no shop in Northern Ireland where you could buy them."

Maven also stocks woven textiles by Jude Cassidy, who is also based in Belfast. You'll see her high-end weaves in the Merchant Hotel, Belfast, but Cassidy's work can be hard to find in shops. Maven also stocks linen by Enrich and Endure, a young company producing contemporary linen - napkins from €55 for a set of four - in Banbridge, Co Down.

Maven also offers interior design service and hosts evening workshops with tea and cake, on the basis that people still crave a retail experience that's different from the cardboard cut-out copies on the high street.

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