Beyond Smoke & Mirrors: How to Decorate with Vintage Screens
Artful, architectural, and fabulously show-stopping, vintage screens are the number one way you didn’t think of to add drama to your space, but completely should have. A true trick of the trade, vintage screens are interior design’s unsung hero. Use an antique screen to close off an odd recess (or exposed pipes) in a charmingly antiquated apartment, or draft them to curate eye-level art in a loft-like space. Dramatic, but never imposing, used screens layer into a space like giant greeting cards with nothing but Zen-like vibes. Feeling inspired to try? We’ve created a secondhand screen guide to help, including a bit of history, our favorite styles, and the best ways to use them.
The History of the Screen
With a storied history that dates back to Ancient Chinese times, antique screens were originally developed to block blustery drafts. Chinese screens also displayed major artworks—and fittingly— were massively heavy and not meant to be moved. In later centuries, the Japanese developed a similar, but less weighty folding screen that was used in tea ceremonies, dance performances, and Buddhist rites. Featuring as many as eight panels, these Japanese screens could easily be packed and moved from location to location, providing the basis for the decorative screen we know today.
In the late 19th Century Europeans began importing Chinese and Japanese screens. Westerners fell hard for the Asian screen’s scenic imagery and as a result, began to create their own screens, using materials like wallpaper in lieu of artisan handiwork.
Types of Vintage Screens
As mentioned above, both vintage Chinese and Japanese screens feature sprawling, charismatic depictions of landscapes and people. Chinese screens are usually made of wood; however, while Japanese screens frequently feature paper or silk construction. Chinese screens also tend to showcase bolder contrasts (like red and gold figures on a black background), while Japanese screens are a bit more tranquil in their color palettes and subject matter. Regardless, because both showcase panel-by-panel action, we love these antique screens displayed in gallery-like spaces (like a dining room) where the full screen can be on full display without too much accordion action.
Nothing adds a dose of wanderlust quite like a bohemian screen. Inclusive of Indian, Moroccan, and a number of other rattan screens, these vintage screens are all about texture. Carving is king, with many featuring ornate scrolls, diamond patterns, and crosshatches. Think of these pieces as master-minded textiles for your walls and use them in conjunction with greenery and poufs to create a worldly sitting corner.
If Modern Art is your visual language, a Scandinavian screen will seriously persuade. While calling them sculptural seems like the understatement of the century, there’s simply no better word to sum up these screens’ seismic curves. When on the hunt, look for iconic pieces, like fully upholstered dividers that mimic the curves of a cool, blue pool bottom, or tambour door dividers which can be displayed in a rippled fashion for maximum drama.
Nothing adds romance to a bedroom or boudoir like a vintage French screen. Lovely and ladylike, these tall dressing screens are outfitted in the most threads, including damask-style upholsteries, brocaded wallpapers, and dreamy, painted landscapes. Others feature silvery, mirrored panels, making them the perfect stand-in for a standard wall mirror.
The Best Ways to Use Vintage Screens
Use One as a Headboard…
If bed shopping strikes you as particularly soul-sucking (with every bed looking nearly the same as the last), try using a vintage screen as a headboard. Every bit as dramatic as a towering, tufted piece, but boasting an artistic integrity that can’t be matched, a vintage screen doesn’t just make a bed a focal point, but a starring feature.
Use One Behind an Angled Furniture Piece…
Work your best angle and use a vintage screen behind a diagonally-placed piece of furniture like a bed or a credenza. While angled furniture can add instant architectural interest to a room, it can be hard to feel like you’re not wasting precious square footage. Solution? Arrange a vintage screen in the empty space behind an angled furniture piece. It will make an angled piece feel unflinchingly purposeful as well as add a theatrical flair.
Use One as a Window Covering…
Don’t get us wrong, when it comes to window dressings we love floor-to-ceiling drapes or the occasional Roman shade, but consider a vintage screen an effortless, downtown cool take on the window covering. For an unexpected look, choose a screen that won’t cover an entire window, but will instead obscure just the bottom. It’ll feel perfectly cabaret-like, as the screen will provide privacy on the bottom, while still allowing the architectural integrity of the window to shine through.