The Allure of Antique Portraits

Maybe it’s the art history major in me, but every time I see a photograph of a room with a prominent antique portrait, I get a little weak in the knees. They lend warmth to a crisp contemporary space, balance whimsy with a dash of gravitas, and lend a sense of depth and history…and dare I say, a little mystery (who is that person??) to a home.

Most recently, I was utterly charmed and a even little mesmerized by the Butler’s Bar at the Junior League of Boston 2016 Show House – the creation of Cecilia Walker and Tracy Foley. I just loved the juxtaposition of the distinguished tuxedoed gentleman with the modern geometric wallpaper from Cecilia Walker Design. And don’t get me started with the glossy teal-green woodwork!

Cecilia Walker & Tracy Foley | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Cecilia Walker & Tracy Foley


Stephanie Sabbe, also formerly of the Boston area and once again taking Nashville by storm, has an affinity for antique and vintage portraits. In this bathroom niche, a single painting on a pastel wall looks soulful, chic and modern, even as it clearly relates to the chandelier and claw-foot tub. Perhaps it is so arresting because you likely wouldn’t have found a fine painting like this in the bathrooms of yesteryear.

Stephanie Sabbe | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Stephanie Sabbe


One of my favorite rooms of all time features a pair of antique portraits with patina to spare, juxtaposed with a high-gloss red wall of built-in shelves. They give this ‘new’ library a sense of history and authenticity. The way the designer, Ramsay Gourd, uses this ‘traditional’ color is anything but conventional. He also designed the bespoke upholstery fabric, a modern, symmetrical toile, specifically for his Vermont client.

Ramsay Gourd | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Ramsay Gourd


The Spanish home of decorator Lorenzo Castillo is also a highly memorable project, featured earlier this year in Architectural Digest. I want to move into this powder room. The mirror dates to the 1600’s, and the portraits, which recall the Spanish masters, originate from the 17th and 19th centuries (top to bottom, I assume). The Nina Campbell damask wallpaper in a modern gray is an incredible backdrop for all of this history and warmth.

Lorenzo Castillo | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Lorenzo Castillo


In this tailored guest bedroom with rustic touches and masculine simplicity, a Civil War general stands guard, sternly welcoming and protecting all visitors that might stay here.

Patrick Printy | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Patrick Printy


My photographer and friend Eric Roth has the most incredible portfolio – it is just image after image of pure interior design photography perfection. I don’t know who the designer is for this space, but it exudes authenticity and originality. Another beautiful capture by the man my friend Mally Skok refers to as “The Master of Light.”

Eric Roth Photography | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Eric Roth Photography


There’s just something about a dark, patinated, gold-framed portrait hanging in a light-filled, pastel-painted room! This fascinating traditional dining room by Fern Santini checks all my boxes – leaded glass fan transoms, fine architectural mouldings, statement lighting, an antique sideboard, and a metallic-glazed ceiling, just to name a few. Even with all of these interesting things, the commanding, yet not terribly large portrait still reads as the focal point of the room.

Fern Santini | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Fern Santini


Here we have another painting in a bathroom! Antique portrait + grey-grouted white subway tile + brass fittings = a bathroom that feels fresh, yet looks very much original condition, like it had just been kept really clean over the years :).

John Derian | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

John Derian 


We revisit the moody wall colors theme with this Australian office nook by Tracie Ellis. Whomever sits and works here must surely feel important and successful.

Tracie Ellis | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Tracie Ellis 


And last but certainly not least, a large, powerful portrait presides over Ralph Lauren’s Bedford library. The painting is an 18th century work by Italian artist Pompeo Girolamo Batoni. This gentleman seems to fully approve of his tartan-laden surroundings (as do I), and I love how he is hung directly on the bookshelves – it lends an even cozier feeling to this rich space.

Ralph Lauren | The Allure of Antique Portraits | Interiors for Families

Ralph Lauren


OK, now I need to get out and find my own mystery man or woman to adorn my walls! What do you think of this look?



Kelly Rogers

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