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Publication Date: 2014-05-12

Design Insights

10 Tips for Adding Modern Flair to a Historic Home

When an urban architect moves into a historic building, the result is a home with eye-catching details at every turn. Barcelona-based architect Georg Kayser gives us 10 tips for mixing different styles and eras to create a cohesive home.

“I like the contrast between different styles—the ability to mix elements from different époques,” says Barcelona-based architect Georg Kayser, cofounder of the design firm Circular Studio. His varied background is proof of this: he’s worked on projects for companies ranging from W Hotels to flashy fashion line Desigual.

The time warp continues in Kayser’s Gràcia neighborhood apartment, located in a 1920s building with plenty of era-appropriate details still intact. Danish modern furniture mingles with antique vases and vessels; rustic French pieces are juxtaposed against contemporary art. But everywhere—in the mosaic-tile floors and the traditional wall moldings—the memory of the old remains. Here’s how he got the look.

No. 1 Exercise restraint. To tone down the bright sunlight that floods one of his two living rooms during the day, Kayser opted for a masculine color palette that includes muted gray walls and dark furnishings. A glass cocktail table and vacant frames keep the room feeling airy rather than overly moody.

No. 2 Tell a story with vignettes. In the dining room, as in the rest of the apartment, Kayser creates relationships among seemingly disparate items from various eras. Here, a worn French workbench purchased at a local flea market counters a sleek chrome table lamp and elegant glass decanters.

No. 3 Consider shade as much as light. Shadows can dramatically alter the look and feel of a room—it’s why Kayser illuminates branches and dried plants from below. He chose this Asian pendant lamp not only for the glowing circle it leaves on the table, but also for the pattern it projects onto the ceiling.

No. 4 Incorporate pieces from all price points. A standard IKEA oven and cabinets are backed by walls of white subway tile and flanked by a whimsical statement table with midcentury chairs. Terrazzo-style tiles make for a low-maintenance flooring option.

No. 5 Establish continuity. Introduce details that call out subtle elements in surprising ways. In his foyer, Kayser painted an avant-garde light fixture he found on the street bright red to correspond to a woman’s dress in a photograph hanging nearby (not pictured).

No. 6 Make room for whimsy. A masculine palette doesn’t have to be so straitlaced. “I like to include ironic items throughout my home,” Kayser says of his cloud-shaped floor lamp, lipstick-tube sculpture, and a work by photographer Jordi Bernadó (a neighbor) in his living room. “They lighten some of the seriousness.”

No. 7 Transform the loo. “I don’t like it when bathrooms look too much like bathrooms,” says Kayser. He removed the telltale tiling beneath the Greek-key trim, layering in books, vases, and various soaps and fragrances to build a comfortable rather than sterile atmosphere.

No. 8 Rethink your headboard. Consider alternate uses for classic design pieces. Here, an oversize mirror with traditional detailing makes for a surprising bed accent. “I’m thinking of painting it yellow so it stands out even more,” says Kayser.

No. 9 Display your passions. Kayser surrounds himself with intimate groupings of paintings, photos, and pieces sourced from his travels. “The mood I want to achieve is comfortable, inviting, and not at all over the top,” he says.

No. 10 Add a little modernity. Many of the second living room’s existing features—gold-painted ceiling moldings, baroque gray wallpaper—already worked well in the space. To provide graphic punch, Kayser incorporated black-and-white artwork and vibrant hits of red.

Written by Jennifer Fernandez | Photographed by Mari Luz Vidal

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