How to mix classic art with contemporary design

Interior designer Phillip Thomas has spent his life ‘travelling the world, looking at beautiful things’. Here, he discusses what he’s learned about mixing old and new, and why a home should always reflect the personality of its owner

‘People often get nervous about incorporating classic pieces into contemporary settings,’ says interior designer Phillip Thomas. ‘But there doesn't have to be a disconnect between a contemporary interior and a classic piece of art or furniture. You just have to give it a whole new energy and meaning within that contemporary space.’

The founder and principal of Phillip Thomas Inc, which has completed projects at many of the top buildings in New York City — including 15 Central Park West, River House, and One Madison — maintains that beautiful materials and meticulous attention to detail are essential to creating a successful design. 

‘A piece of classic art, properly set and displayed within a contemporary space, can truly ignite the imagination’

Thomas, who spent his formative years living in New York City and South America, recognised his passion for interior design at an early age. ‘Collecting is a passion of mine,’ he reveals. ‘I spent my childhood… looking at beautiful objects at auction, in shops and in other people’s homes. Art is very important to making a space come alive. The way that art is installed should give life to [it].’ 

Far from being nervous, he suggests, clients should embrace the potential for classic art and furniture to bring something new to a contemporary setting. ‘A piece of classic art, properly set and displayed within a contemporary space, can truly ignite the imagination. I love juxtaposing a contemporary piece of art with a classic piece, as there is a trajectory that art has taken... Classic pieces are part of that history and need to be appreciated and understood.’