Anna Brockway, cofounder of online marketplace Chairish and a former vice president at Levi Strauss, is known for her taste-making style and loves flea markets, Delft blue and white planters and Vladimir Kagan mohair sofas. She knows a lot about what vintage and antique pieces are in demand by what people are buying and selling on her site.
Brockway joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What’s trending in art? Is the gallery wall over?
A: Right now, we are seeing lots of interest in Pop art. (Think large-scale, bright colors and ironic takes on commercial themes.)
As for your second question: Long live the gallery wall! We have seen piqued interest in a new take on it, though – more like a tile look where pieces by the same artist in a similar theme, shape and frame are used in large grid configurations. It’s a more sophisticated, and maybe a little calmer, take on the gallery wall approach.
Q: We live in a mid-century home and own almost exclusively pre-1970 furniture/decor. Our family room sofa has seen better days, and we’d like to replace it with a washable slip cover with a mid-century modern look. Do you have any suggestions?
A: I would recommend a simple Lawson (or square) arm sofa with a tailored slipcover. Look for a low profile to match the rest of your design.
Q: I’ve just started antique hunting for my home. What are some vintage home decor items I should look out for?
A: I would recommend starting with vintage rugs, lighting (like table lamps) and occasional pieces (ottomans and small side tables). These will add personal style to your space as you start to develop your own vintage aesthetic and usually aren’t big financial and space commitments.
Q: I love the sturdiness and quality of older furniture. How do I make these pieces more transitional? I see ” just slap some white paint on it” all over Pinterest, but there must be another way to respect the piece and give it a new home.
A: Making traditional brown furniture relevant is all about context. Two tips: I like it when a traditional piece is used in a highly edited room with lots of negative space around the piece. In other words, get rid of the clutter! This allows the beauty, solidity and character of the traditional piece to really be appreciated.
Secondly, surround the piece with a light color. The main thing that you want to avoid is the heavy, all-dark look, and that can be accomplished through the thoughtful use of color.
Q: What’s the trend in vintage metals? Is brass still hot? Is vintage moving to a postmodern phase? Are the 1990s back? What’s your favorite mix of periods, textures and colors?
A: For metals, we’ve seen a sustained interest in brass. But I will say that I love it when folks fearlessly mix metal types for a more eclectic look! It’s tricky, though, and sort of “advanced decorating.” The safest move would be to pick a lane and stay there.
Regarding postmodern, we do see a growing following for Memphis inspired design. I happen to love postmodern accents and think they are especially chic when partnered with traditional French pieces. It is a very sophisticated juxtaposition.
Q: It seems that antique and vintage oak furniture is “out.” Have you seen this trend and if so, why do you think that is? Are there any types of oak antique furniture that are in demand?
A: I grew up in California where for a long time oak furniture was popular. You are right that in its original form, oak is not super happening right now. However, we do see designers using cerused finishes to update these pieces. The finish takes the yellow out and puts an emphasis on the texture of the oak.
Q: I’ve been seeing lots of lacquered furniture and vintage Chinoiserie used by designers for the past six years or so. Do you see this lasting?
A: I do. Lacquered pieces are a surefire way to bring color and sparkle into a space. And chinoiserie is just a chic classic that pairs well with so many styles. I love it mixed with midcentury modern styles especially.
Q: I am trying to sell some of my parents’ Danish contemporary rosewood furniture. Someone from a local mid-century modern store is interested in the dining room chairs, but not the table. Am I going to have trouble selling the table without the matching chairs?
A: I would sell the chairs. The trend is toward mixing tables and chairs types for an eclectic look.
Q: What fashion trends are you seeing translate into the home?
A: Animal prints have been all over the catwalk, sidewalk and are now really a staple in home decorating. You can see animal prints in seating, pillows, rugs (my favorite) and lampshades. Patterned and pleated lampshades are a whole other trend we are digging!
Q: What do you see as the glaring trends on the West Coast vs. the East Coast? Is it boho on the West and industrial on the East, as I suspect?
A: One of my favorite parts of my job is seeing local differences in style and taste.
My experience is that it’s not really a regional difference but actually varies city by city, or even neighborhood by neighborhood! For example in Los Angeles (especially in neighborhoods, like Silver Lake) you can see more of a boho vibe, but I also see lots of Santa Barbara-style Andalusian looks in Pasadena, modern farmhouse in the Palisades, Art Deco glam in parts of Beverly Hills and unabashed, sleek mid-century modern style in the Hollywood Hills.
Texas also intrigues me. Houston homes often feature lots of smashing French antiques while Dallas embraces contemporary art and midcentury modern. More generally though, if pushed I would say the East Coast runs more traditional (and loves a window treatment) while the West Coast leans toward a more casual vibe.
Q: Rattan, bamboo and wicker seem to be popular in interiors now. Is it OK to use it in places other than a porch or sunroom?
A: Yes please! We see wicker, bamboo and rattan appearing indoors regularly and we love the whimsy, lightness and freshness it brings to a space. It’s chic!
Q: I am new to having anything other than a dorm to decorate, so please bear with me. But I see all this talk about trends – what’s in, out, etc. – in home design but I don’t understand how people decorating their own houses are supposed to respond to that. Are people actually expected to redecorate their houses continuously to reflect what’s “in”?
A: Ha! This is a fun question. Like any style-related category, trends come and go but good, classic basics remain (like Levis). Most folks today think of their home as an expression of their personal style – much like their clothes – and want to change things up regularly. My recommendation is to start with seating and table pieces that you love (I’ll call these “commitment pieces”) and look to art, lighting, rugs and occasional tables and chairs for freshness. How often the refreshing happens is up to you. I will admit to being a serial re-decorator (hence, why I started Chairish) but that’s me!
Q: Are bar carts too overdone? If so, what would you have instead?
A: I happen to find bar carts really useful for entertaining. They have gotten a lot of attention lately, but I remain a fan. That said, nothing is prettier for a party than a gorgeously abundant bar laid out atop a buffet or console table. A classic, good look and equally practical.
Q: What’s your favorite item in your home?
A: I have a massive, clear Murano chandelier in my oval dining room that was a wedding gift from my mom and stepdad (they purchased it while traveling in Venice). It’s never going for sale on Chairish!
Q: While I don’t like the idea of a formal dining room, my husband is threatening to put a Ping Pong table in there. Help! What to do?
A: Formal dining rooms are often underused, so I appreciate your question. I am not sure you will want to tell your husband this, but I have seen ping-pong tables that transform into dining tables. (Just sayin’ . . .)
Because most dining rooms are adjacent to the kitchen, modern families often repurpose their dining rooms into family rooms while perhaps including a smaller table for intimate dining. It’s a practical choice that presents a host of fun decorating options!
Q: I’m 25 and just setting up my first apartment. What’s the one thing I should splurge on?
A: Because you likely have a few moves ahead of you, I would recommend you invest in art you love! It’s easy to transport to a new space and your ability to incorporate these pieces in future homes won’t be constrained by floor plans.