Artful and Authentically American
Antique dealer Holly Kuhn shares tips on making vintage collections look vibrant
Photography by Ryann Ford
At a time when modern design is all the rage, there are still people who value things that have a history and the patina of age.
Count Holly Kuhn among them. She has been collecting and selling antiques for more than two decades and shares her style in New Americana: Interior Décor with an Artful Blend of the Old and the New (Gibbs Smith). Featured are design ideas from her homes as well as those of clients, and displays from her antique shops in Denver, Colorado, and Round Top, Texas.
Setting aside ideas of how an item was once used lets you think of it in new ways. Vintage wood clamps can leave the work bench and showcase leather-bound books.
“People would ask me what I call my style and I didn’t have a name for it at first,” Kuhn says one sunny morning at Old Glory Antiques, her Denver store. The objects she’s drawn to embrace authenticity, comfort and an artful spirit. An American attitude is part of the equation, too. “Beyond red, white and blue, American values to me mean hard work, resourcefulness, optimism and the willingness to take risks and be creative.”
A piece of art was created from ledgers arranged on a weathered door.
She uses her home as a creative laboratory and tries not to be in a hurry when decorating. “Objects that you love, collect and make a part of the décor of your home tell a story and reveal, in part, your tastes and experiences,” according to Kuhn. “I love to be surrounded by pieces that remind me of the happy times I’ve shared with friends and family.”
A vibrant collection of plates and bowls collected during the homeowners’ travels are made more special by the artful layering.
So how do you collect and display objects artfully? Kuhn offers some tips.
Collect what you like and don’t worry about pleasing others.
“Years ago I started a collection of white pitchers,” she says. “Some were antique, some newer. I don’t mind if they have a chip. I’m not a purist. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Then I found white ceramic molds, many of which were used to make vases, so I mixed those in.”
Keep the design presentation clean.
“Two is a couple, three is a collection, and I never stop at three,” laughs Kuhn. That said, she might not put all of a certain collection on display at the same time. “Collections can lead to clutter and I don’t like clutter, so I’ll corral things in a certain space, like my small boxes, which are on a tray. Use whatever fits comfortably together and looks beautiful.”
A collection of antique shoe lasts mounted on wood blocks creates an unusual assemblage on a shelf.
Creatively displaying a collection can elevate the objects.
Use unexpected holders to showcase your pieces. Kuhn is fond of glass cloches with wood bases, which she has used to display antique measuring tapes and old paintbrushes. Vintage wooden boxes and glass-fronted cabinets make great display vessels as well. You can also place things where they might not be expected: Mount a grouping of boxes on a wall; hang vintage breadboards from hooks; frame pieces of antique silverware.
Move things around, and don’t abandon items you once loved.
“I don’t think you should throw away things just because they don’t seem relevant or match your décor at the moment, such as art your children created when they were young,” she says. “So what if it doesn’t match the color scheme of the room? It has sentimental value and brings soul to the room.”
Photographs by Ryann Ford from New Americana by Holly Kuhn, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith, gibbs-smith.com.
As seen in the January/February 2020 issue