Incorporate Antique Textiles

TSG Tip 124
Incorporating antique and global textiles is one of our favorite ways to add warmth and soul to a space; the richness of the colors and textures and the stories that they tell make a home feel wonderfully eclectic and inviting. Few people understand this as well as Susan Hull Walker, founder of the Charleston-based ibu. Therefore, we asked Susan, whose home is filled with antique and global textiles, to walk us through her favorite ways to use them throughout the house. Here are her recommendations:

Start with neutral or solid-colored upholstery. Unless you are a pro at layering patterns, most global textiles look best on a crisp off-white linen-covered sofa, a chocolate velvet chair, or textural stripe on a sleek chaise. By keeping the background simple and uncluttered, the hand-embroidery or weaving of an antique textile pops.

Throw a beautiful vintage cloth over the back of a chair. Tight back upholstery is a great backdrop for a piece, but even a sofa or chair with a loose cushioned back can look lovely with a cloth over its spine, tucked behind the cushion. I have a golden vintage sari folded over the back of a chair as you enter my living room that catches light and welcomes people in.

Don’t be afraid to use a long, narrow textile. These look great over an antique chest or buffet, across a bedside table, a piano bench, and of course, down a long dining table. Antique textiles add warmth, light, and softness to any space. I love an old Moroccan wedding sash that drapes over my Tibetan chest, and the vintage suzani that pumps up my otherwise very plain piano bench.

Use small pieces to make a big impact. I like to gather small antique fragments, bags, and other tiny treasures in a tray or footed bowl at the center of a table, spilling out with tassels and beads and luminous threads. Small pieces are also good under a statue or other ornament, hanging from a mantel, or draping from a large basket container—they’ll give the room movement. When I’m entertaining I always put small, mirrored embroideries under candles, encircling the centerpiece.

Bring pieces into the bedroom. Oversized shawls, kantha quilts, or other one-of-a-kind handworked pieces look lovely over the end of the bed and add color and seasonal change to a bedroom. I have saris in varying colors—deep royal purple, soft turquoise, and faded red—that drape over my otherwise white-on-white bed. In addition, wide textiles with borders are perfect for transforming into a long lumbar pillow for a bed or loveseat.

Consider hanging a truly remarkable antique textile. I love to frame antique bags between glass panels without a mat, or have a large African kuba skirt sewn to stretched linen canvas, or mount a small antique Berber vest in an acrylic shadow box. These treatments add a degree of respect to the textile, acknowledging its storied history and worth.

TSG Tip 124 from Susan Hull Walker of ibu in Charleston, SC.