“Vintage” is a word that’s used so commonly throughout the design world these days, it can be hard to identify what, exactly, the word means. Perhaps surprisingly, vintage doesn’t necessarily refer to anything used, second-hand, worn, or old, although those are certainly identifiers of vintage pieces sometimes.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at what vintage design actually is (and what it isn’t), and some useful insights about the style.

Define Vintage.

For starters, then, let’s look at the definition of vintage. In a nutshell, and technically speaking, vintage is defined as something that is 20 years or older. This is different from simply second-hand or used, which could be something that’s only a year or two old but is worn out enough that it feels “vintage.” This is also different from antique, which actually references items that are at least 100 years old.

Interestingly, the word “vintage” has roots in vin-, or wine. Vintage is actually a wine-making term that is used to define a season’s harvest at a specific vineyard. There are two aspects that we should keep in mind when discussing vintage style: (1) vintage can refer to an item that is of a specific time period (e.g., “vintage 1970s”), and (2) vintage should mean that the particular piece being referenced exhibits the best of a certain quality associated with that specific time period.

So, in other words, if an item is deemed“vintage,” it should be “somewhat representational and recognizable as belonging to the era in which is was made” – Apartmenttherapy. This is, of course, true of vintage-inspired pieces as well.

Consider the contemporary potential of vintage design.

We’ve established that “vintage” describes designs that are 20-100 years old, and the term is most often associated with a shabby-chic sort of well-worn aesthetic. Which is fine and accurate. But it should also be stated that vintage design can be crisp and clean, too…and just as at-home in a contemporary space as in any other.

This den, for example, is reminiscent of aspects of the 1970s, with its wall paneling, tuner radio, and gold-plated drum pendant (for examples), but it’s mixed with clean, contemporary touches as well. So the space is a blend of contemporary and vintage design, which can also be called eclectic.

There’s such thing as trendy vintage.

Not all vintage pieces are created equal, as far as style desirability is concerned. Currently, a very popular vintage look in furniture is the mid-century modern style. This style embodies so much in terms of clean lines, great design, and the bridge between nature and urban living.

Discover the difference between vintage and vintage-inspired.

The actual definition of vintage involves the age of a thing (vintage is 20+ years old, antiques are 100+); however, a piece’s marketability can play a role in its vintage appeal as well. That’s why certain eras inspire pieces that are called “vintage,” even though they’re not truly vintage. These items are often (and should be) identified as being “vintage-inspired.”

Another element of vintage-inspired design involves low-profile furnishings. Low-backed chairs and sofas, short headboards on platform beds, etc., these are things that have that throwback feeling, even though many of the pieces are decidedly contemporary.

Aim for charm and history.

“Vintage interior design is all about creating a sense of charm and history through old eclectic pieces” – Dwellcandy. This can involve using flea market finds or mounting traditional wallpaper, and much in between. The goal should be to embrace the things of the past and enjoy them as they are.

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