Trash or Treasure? The art of mixing old and new

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

A casual conversation between antiques dealer Judy Frankel and Alane and Bob Thomas of the Michigan Design Center’s RJ Thomas Showroom resulted in a program designed to help homeowners, collectors and design aficionados master the art of the mix.

Vignette from  RJ Thomas Showroom at the Michigan Design Center.

“We were discussing design trends and talking about how mixing antique with new pieces is always more interesting than not mixing,” Frankel explains. That conversation lead to the idea and a yearlong creative collaboration with local designers that kicks off this week.

Featuring eight designers working in pairs, it includes both new and established designers, Frankel says. “We chose the designers kind of randomly, the only parameter is to use a good mix of both new and old. The design is strictly up to the designers but they must use a combination of RJ Thomas pieces and my pieces.”

The first pairing features Carrie Long and Linda Shears, with two vignettes on view through Feb. 15. The pair, along with Judy Frankel, will be featured in a “meet and greet” open to the public at the RJ Thomas Showroom today from 1-3 p.m. Future featured designers for “The Unexpected Mix: The Beauty of Mixing Old with New,” include Corey Damen Jenkins and Amanda Wolfe (March 1 to May 15) Amy Vucaj and Dan Davis (June 1 to Aug. 15) and Cheryl Nestro and Staci Meyers (Sept. 1 to Dec. 15).

To kick off the series, we caught up with Long and Shears for their thoughts on antiques and design. 

The frog paired with vases creates an appealing tableau.

Homestyle: What do antiques and vintage bring to a room?

Carrie Long: Art and antiques are the soul of the room.  They offer charm, elegance and a dynamic quality.

Linda Shears: The marrying of old and new adds an element of surprise to a space. In my foyer, I paired a rather intricate bombe chest with an oversized Aubrey Beardsley poster. The dialogue between the sleek and ornate creates magic.

What do you look for in a vintage piece?

CL: Rarity, uniqueness and quality. 

LS: Most important is to find a reliable source for pieces that have good bones, quality and visual appeal. 

Do you use vintage in your own home? If so, what?

CL: Always!  Chairs, lighting, tables, architectural elements and relics.

LS: I live in a mid-century modern ranch built in the mid-‘50s. I have an eclectic mix of styles, leaning heavily on the warm contemporary side. Pieces I purchased in the late 1970s have now become “vintage”. For example, my Marge Carson bolster back slipper sofa in the style of Milo Baughman is center stage in my living room. I will never part with my 1950s Mazzega Murano chandelier that hangs over my now “vintage” DIA chrome and glass dining room set. I have some vintage accessories that span time…..from an art nouveau pink glass dish that rests on a floral black iron stand to mid-century modern tea cups.

What national or international designers do you admire and why?

CL: Vladimir Kagan is a favorite – his designs are so organic and abstract.  He is a pioneer of modeling contemporary fluid movement in design – a truly timeless contemporary designer.


LS: When I visited Judy Frankel Antiques to look for pieces to use in my vignette, one of the first items that caught my eye was a cabinet by John Widdicomb. I sold items from this line of fine furniture when I first began my design career. Quality with a capital “Q.”  The two-piece curved sofa that I used in my vignette is a Vladimir Kagan design. Sumptuous and awesome. I also admire Stickley items and anything from Thomas O’Brien. Their furniture speaks volumes of timelessness and universal contemporary design.

What are good “starter” pieces for homeowners looking to buy vintage? 

CL: Lighting.  It’s an easy thing to integrate when you are trying to dip your toe in the “vintage pond.”

LS: Start small….a chair or a chest. Maybe even just accessories.

Mid-century modern is everywhere. What other vintage design style is due for a revival?

CL: Art deco design for sure. 

LS: Perhaps from too many years of gray walls and neutral furniture, we are starting to see a revival of 1970s styling and glam. We are now far enough removed from that decade whose punch-line was the decade that taste seem to forget. We can leave pit sofas and wall-to-wall shag carpeting buried with other ’70s tacky-trends and look back with fondness at the use of lush fabrics and color.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.