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Melissa Bowers of M.A. Bowers Inc is an accomplished interior designer with an impressive client list. She has worked as a designer for more than twenty years and is known for her love of antique and vintage furniture and decor, often aiming for a 50-50 mix of old and new in her projects. Here, she shares what makes these items special to her and some things to consider when looking for them.
The right shape and size
It’s often the shape of vintage or antique furniture that people are drawn to, says Bowers. You can have pieces refilled and reupholstered but getting the right shape and size for the space you’re designing is so important.
A lot of today’s furniture is quite big, says Bowers. She suspects it’s because of copyright restrictions and explains that if furniture brands are copying a classic antique or vintage design subject to copyright, they have to change the design by 10 per cent. So, as a result, they often go bigger than the original design.
“It’s a curious thing because, in New York, London and Paris, spaces are small,” she says.
Bowers designed the interior refit of Manhattan’s Temple Bar and chose to keep the bar’s original 80s furniture.
Many people were surprised at this choice, but she felt strongly that the furniture had always fit the space just right, and the bar had such a history it was worth preserving.
The resulting space feels intimate, and the chairs fit the patrons just right, says Bowers.
Quality over quantity
Something Bowers says she tries to convey to her clients is the quality that’s found in vintage and antique items. Often furniture was stuffed with horsehair instead of some of the cheaper materials used today.
“I’ve worked with a lot of conservators and am really interested in protecting and preserving antiques,” she says.
Bowers chose to use art deco glass sconces by Italian brand Murano on one of her current projects, a hotel in Miami.
The glass-blowing industry is really affected by gas shortages because of the war in Ukraine, combined with supply chain interruptions because of the health pandemic, which is resulting in glass shortages. So now is a good time to look at vintage glass options, says Bowers.
Learning on the job
Bowers says nothing beats learning on the job when it comes to appreciating antique and vintage furnishings. She worked for the renowned New York-based design firm Studio Sofield for 15 years, whose client list includes the likes of Tom Ford. One of her first design projects with Studio Sofield was for a very successful Hollywood producer who had homes designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
She learned a lot about maintaining antique items — how to have them repaired and restored — before this information was available to research online.
“I’d have to go to France and London and meet antique dealers. So the relationships with these people became strong.”
Measure twice, cut once
Bowers cautions that it’s essential to be careful with proportions and size when ordering furnishings online. She’s witnessed colleagues spend tens of thousands on an item they’ve found online that turned out to be entirely wrong.
“For me, it’s so important to know the house it comes from, the history of the piece, what’s inspired it. I have a huge heart for vintage and antiques,” says Bowers.
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