In this post: Want to add a bit of elegance to your home? These tips will show you how to add vintage personality by decorating with and styling antique silver.⇒
I am so distracted by shiny objects.
That clichéd expression absolutely cracks me up, because in my case, it’s completely true in the most literal sense.
While I also love patina, chippy paint and laundered fabrics, some of my favorite decor elements possess more than a small amount of sheen. There’s my love of gilding, my passion for crystal and the topic of today’s post, the brilliance of vintage silver.
In preparing this post, I tried to remember when I first became enamored with antique silver, or which was my first collected piece, but the preoccupation seems to go way back and its origins escape me.
But of all the categories I do collect, this is likely the one that’s yielded the broadest assortment. Let’s look at decorating your home with antique silver.
I tend to buy pieces in a few categories and this is how I also display them.
A great place to start when collecting silver is with vanity pieces, because they’re relatively small and hence comparatively affordable. They also often combine a silver lid with a crystal body, which is another way to keep the price in check.
I prefer to collect pieces that provide some utility, even if that function is not what they were initially intended for, so in our master bath I use an ashtray as a soap dish, a toothpick holder for Q-tips, a powder jar for cotton balls and a teapot for flowers.
A question I’m often asked is whether I buy silverplate or sterling and the answer is both. Of course I prefer the quality of real sterling, but rather than be limited by price constraints, I happily collect pieces that I find beautiful. As with most of my antiques, I do not worry about profit or value, as I collect for my own enjoyment, so I buy what I can afford.
In practice, this tends to translate into larger pieces in silverplate and smaller ones in sterling, and the one place I decided to buy only sterling is for a budding collection of vintage napkin rings. I select the mismatched pieces for the beauty of their detail and since they’re ever-so-tiny and quite lightweight, I stick to sterling.
I use them very often in my table settings and I appreciate that each piece is a different design. I buy names and initials that have no meaning to us, and to me they become simply the name of the unique piece. I am, however, charmed by the dated names and I often wonder about their individual histories.
Another early category that I started to collect years ago is silver tea sets, with their curvy bowls and creamers. This is possibly the place where it all started, as it no doubt was an offshoot of my obsession with teacups.
Wherever it came from, my taste leans toward the more ornate and I think nothing of mixing together unmatched items, as long as they share a common design spirit.
Most often, the tray is from a different set, and this little imperfection adds interest for me.
I’ve been asked where I buy the items in my collections and the short answer is everywhere.
But the real story is much more intentional. There are two key places I go to shop for vintage pieces and they are somewhat obvious. The first is antique markets and the second is online. The online options are many, although I spend most of my time perusing eBay and Etsy.
The far more interesting source is the in-person markets I frequent, as I LOVE to buy ‘smalls’ from overseas, particularly from England and France. Bringing back little treasures found in dusty timeworn shops is a sheer delight and I re-live each of the trips when I see the piece in my home.
Still, it’s not like I traipse around the world multiple times a year. I can additionally be found in stateside antique markets, whether local to my home or pretty much anywhere I visit (including my kids’ college towns, no matter how remote!)
Ink wells and desk accessories are the next category I enjoy collecting. Like dressing table items, these are also small and easy to bring back from travels. I love monogrammed lids and cut glass bodies and the pieces look wonderful when clustered together in a display. The more variety between them, the better, as long as there is a cohesion in style.
There are those who love to polish silver to its utmost gleaming and others who revel in the natural look of tarnish. My preference is somewhere in between, a state that takes a bit of effort to maintain. I like to polish most of the body, but the more ornamental the piece is, the more dark I like to keep visible inside the crevices to highlight the gorgeous detailing.
The candlesticks above represent yet another of my favorite collectible categories and these specific pieces run the gamut in terms of provenance. The candelabra in the center is one of a pair I found online, while the curvaceous piece on the left was found in Camden Passage in London (along with Alfie’s, one of my favorite UK markets). The seller told me they came from Prague.
Remarkably, the two lighters in the front and the pitcher on the right I found at the very top of my mother’s kitchen cabinet. In twenty years living at home, I had never once seen these pieces!
In my home, they are kept out. All day. Every day.
Sometimes I use silver as an accent to my other collections.
Most of my rooms are quite neutral, using mostly fresh flowers to bring in color, so in our bedroom on a shelf unit where I keep my ironstone collection, I use silver trays and trinket boxes to provide dimension against the white.
This is very much the way I like to best feature both my antiques and my decor in general, as I think all of my favored materials look most elegant against a backdrop of white or neutral.
That said, I love to mix metals and almost every room has both gilding and vintage silver. Add in my beloved florals and it’s easy to forget that my home is in large part devoid of colorful decor.
A wonderful place to showcase and use silver pieces is in the kitchen or dining room. Cake servers, cheese knives, platters and trays, ice buckets, cruet sets, wine caddies and more, can all be used to upgrade your entertaining or simply to store the items you use daily.
I use a silver ice bucket as a crock for my kitchen utensils, a footed silver bowl for fruit, and a silver tray to hold our oils. And of course another tea service for cut flowers.
One final category I’d like to mention is new to my collection and something I’ve wanted for some time. What better way to exhibit vintage family photos than in stunning embellished silver frames?
I’ll be looking for more frames in my forays through the markets. These seem less plentiful than some of the other categories, which makes it a challenge I’ll enjoy trying to conquer.
If, like me, you are drawn to shiny objects, don’t bother trying to look away. Instead, enjoy the hunt while looking for the most exquisite pieces. Then curate your collections and display them where they can be most appreciated.
And that’s never inside a dark cabinet!
Be sure to scroll down for links to some of my favorite items!
To get the look, click on the items below for direct links to the products. Where actual items were no longer available, I’ve provided similar options. If an item is out of stock but may be restocked, I left it on the list.
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