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Designer Pearl Lowe reveals her shopping guide to vintage interiors

The designer shares her guide to vintage decor, from her favourite antique finds to incorporating nostalgia into your home

Pearl Lowe is a vintage devotee, her signature decorating style a mix of rock ‘n roll romantic and bohemian charm. This is captured in her two most recent books – Faded Glamour and Faded Glamour by the Sea – which detail the aesthetic at her 11-bedroom pile in Somerset and her seaside bolthole in East Sussex. Here, she reveals the inspiration behind her style and shares her pearls of wisdom on shopping for one-of-a-kind finds and integrating them into your home.

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Pearl Lowe’s Vintage Interiors

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Don’t be afraid to mix eras

There shouldn’t be any rules when it comes to vintage – it’s about the mix, the alchemy you create when you play around with styles. Precious antiques that have become slightly battered over the decades are all the more charming when playfully juxtaposed with a more contemporary, colourful piece from a flea market. It’s the point where 18th-century mahogany meets 1950s plastic retro; where chintz sits alongside animal print and sultry velvets; Rococo goes a little rock ’n’ roll; and a freestanding 1970s Anglepoise lamp sets it all alight.

As much as I love vintage, I mix it up with contemporary pieces as I don’t like to scrimp when it comes to comfort. My bed in Somerset comes from Soho Home, its shell-shaped velvet headboard a nod to a bygone era. One of my favourite items of furniture is a red velvet sofa I bought from Rachel Ashwell, the designer and writer who introduced us all to ‘shabby chic’ – and I am partial to Graham and Green sofas. I always buy new tablecloths. Summerill & Bishop is my go-to, but Coco and Wolf also make brilliant table linens, quilts and cushions, as well as very cute dog beds. In terms of ceramics, I usually buy vintage, but if not, I’ll head to Anthropologie. 

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Only shop the pieces you love

When buying vintage, listen to your gut as no-one knows better than you. If you haven’t the space for the piece you’ve fallen in love with, then swap out something at home you’re not as keen on. I have often seen something I thought I didn’t have room for and then really regretted not buying it. The best bargain I ever picked up was a fringe lamp from the Clignancourt Flea Market in Paris. It was a huge, heavy iron one and my husband said we’d never get it back home but we found a way. It was so worth it – it’s still in our front room, ten years later. 

For the most part, my home is filled with pieces that have simply caught my eye and appealed to my evolving aesthetic. A pink flamingo that serves no purpose other than to make me smile; my assortment of mismatched china bought lucky-dip style from car boot sales; my animal-print cushions, gypsy piano shawls and swathes of vintage lace. These have no intrinsic value to anyone but myself; they are for me what faded glamour is all about.

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Create a vintage shops hitlist

Whenever I’m in London, I always head straight to Notting Hill. That’s my number one spot for picking up antiques and vintage pieces. Golborne Road has loads of great places, such as Les Couilles du Chien, and I adore B&T Antiques on Talbot Road. I’m also often found at Alfies Antique Market in Marylebone, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave. There’s a spot called Marchlands just opposite where I picked up an incredible antique chest of drawers. It was £1,000 when I bought it 20 years ago, so I dread to think how much it would be now. 

I buy a lot of my smaller pieces online. I’m always trawling eBay and Etsy for old Sanderson fabrics and vintage lace, which I’ve been selling on my website for over 20 years. I’ll find a great piece and dye it a different colour, maybe a pink or turquoise. DeVOL Kitchens also has a brilliant vintage section on their website.

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Be bold with colours and prints

When it comes to creating a vintage feel, I am not afraid of painting a room a near-black, the bloodiest of reds or a sumptuous purple. But green and pink are my go-tos – they work with everything. Farrow & Ball Mizzle is my absolute favourite colour, because it seems like the sort of soft green you’d find in an old Hollywood starlet’s boudoir. I’ve also fallen for Francesca’s Paints. My favourite is Smoky Quartz, which is a kind of dusty pink. 

My one real extravagance is wallpaper. I tend to go to Morris & Co for wallpapers, not just because of their iconic William Morris prints but because they have a wonderfully vintage feel to them. I also adore House of Hackney’s maximalist, flamboyant prints. I stayed at their Cornish retreat, Castle of Trematon, a couple of years ago, which was magical. It is full of theatre, with its botanical-inspired decor and fantastical wallpapers and fabrics. I’ve covered my dining room in their loud flora print, Midnight Garden.

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Keep things simple

The style of interiors at our coastal home is a lot simpler than I’m used to. When I first decorated it, I tried French and flouncy and it didn’t work. I love colour and pattern and print but sometimes you need to keep things a little more neutral. I wanted the palette of the living areas to be as pale as possible so I had the floors stripped back. From this starting point, I could then inject colour using soft furnishings, bedding, rugs, lamps, paintings and tableware. 

But minimal doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate vintage touches. I didn’t want it to have the soulless feeling of a holiday rental. I still wanted it to be full of character, our things and our combined aesthetic, so the windows are covered with the finest of lace panels, for example. I still feel that I have achieved my take on faded glamour, now by the sea.

It’s all in the details

When decorating a house, my first priority is lighting. A twinkling chandelier hanging from the ceiling adds magic to the plainest of spaces, while a 1920s standing lamp and a silk shade adorned with a cascade of fringe will take you back to another era. I often buy vintage lamps just because I adore them and then get them rewired, which actually doesn’t cost that much. 

Grouping art eclectically around the house adds colour and personality. I collect vintage nudes, which I pick up from antique and flea markets. I mix them in with antique French oil portraits and flowers, but I have invested in a few special pieces, like Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Escape Artist. For rock ‘n roll pieces I’ll go to Eddie Lock in Folkestone, who sells great Jamie Reid prints. There’s also a brilliant gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea called Lucy Bell Gallery where I bought some signed David Bowie photos. I’ll often take more modern works out of their frames and replace them with gold vintage frames, which work well on a gallery wall. 

Invest in vintage textiles

I am forever collecting old fabrics and textiles, so much so that my cupboards and armoires groan with the weight of them. It has saved me so much money over the years by not buying fabric to order. Instead, I just rummage through my collection – it gives me such a sense of satisfaction when I’m able to transform an old curtain into a new window covering or a set of cushions. 

When it comes to fabrics, I always say to choose ones that you will want to live with for the rest of your life, because no matter how many times you move or your tastes change, they can always, with a nip and a tuck, be successfully reincarnated into something else. If I had one desert island textile it would have to be vintage lace, which brings a cosy ‘cottagey’ look to a room. Such is my passion for lace that my first venture into the world of interiors began when I started making lace curtains for my friends on my kitchen table in London 20 years ago.

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Experiment with vintage everywhere

I don’t believe that any room in a house has to be drab, whether that’s a downstairs loo or an office. And that applies to a utility room as well. There’s no reason why my laundry room shouldn’t be pretty – especially given the fact that, as a mother of four, I spend a great deal of time there. By hanging shelves, I have created much-needed storage space for my decorative collection of china, my vases and piles of surplus bedding. 

I’m a firm believer that the greatest investment you can make when you buy a house is a good kitchen. It should not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Mine has a long island, made up of Shaker cupboards with a marble top, and antique pendant lights hang from the ceiling. For bathrooms, I prefer freestanding bathtubs. If you are canny, you can find old ones on the internet or in reclamation yards. I get them re-enamelled and then paint the base myself in fun colours.

Designer Pearl Lowe Reveals Her Guide To Vintage InteriorsPin

Cast your creative net wide

My inspiration comes from so many quarters – art, film, photography, music, work, travel and, above all, my friends. I also follow people who are in the antique and interiors world on Instagram. My favourites include Rose Uniacke and Rachel Ashwell, and I love Lorraine Kirke’s style. All the different Soho Houses around the world inspire me too. I appreciate the way they’ve turned antiques into something modern, and how they mix their stuff with old pieces from markets.  

I have turned my passion for interiors into a business. There’s a section on my website where I sell vintage furniture and homewares that I source. I’m a constant redecorator. My husband and I used to flip houses so we were always moving, but now that we’re staying put I feel the need to change things up all the time, so pieces that no longer work now go up on the website. It’s been brilliant, because now I can indulge in guilt-free shopping – even if I only own it for a little while, I know it will then go on to someone else.  

‘Faded Glamour by the Sea’ and ‘Faded Glamour’ by Pearl Lowe (CICO Books, £25) are out now

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