Vintage vs. Antique vs. Retro: What’s the Difference?

Retro living room with vintage boho style

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Vintage. Antique. Retro. All of these words most likely bring up a specific design aesthetic or image. Perhaps you think of an old, ornate dresser, items you would find in a second-hand store, or a funky 80s decor piece. But what exactly do these interior design terms mean? Is that old dresser you bought an antique or is it vintage? What exactly does retro include? Much of the time, these words are used interchangeably, but they all have their own unique definition. Learn how to definitively determine what each style is, as well as how to combine items from these categories for your own unique look.

What are vintage, antique, and retro style pieces? 

Vintage, antique, and retro each have their own style characteristics and encompass different items and time periods. Here are some definitions to keep things simple.

  • Antique: An antique item is something that is about 100 years old or older. So in 2022, an item would need to be from 1922 or earlier to generally be considered antique. Examples could include handmade, wooden furnishings, paintings, or other decor items. 
  • Vintage: Vintage furniture and other items have a broader age requirement than antiques, though they must be old enough to feel like they are from a pre-existing time period or a bygone era. This would include items that are anywhere from about 20 to 99 years old. Oftentimes, vintage items bring back feelings of nostalgia and may also be collectible. 
  • Retro: When it comes to retro furniture or decor, it may not actually be old at all. You often will find retro pieces at popular retailers today. These items are newly made but designed to look like vintage or antique items. For example, you might find a pair of "vintage" shoes or an "old" lamp that evoke styles of times past, though they are not actually from an older time.  

Vintage vs. Antique

Vintage differs from antique because of its age. Antiques are usually at least 100 years old, while vintage items, though aged, are not as old as antiques. For example, an antique would include an old gramophone or handmade wooden dresser from the early 1900s. A vintage item may include a midcentury dresser or a 1960s wall clock. Because of the wide array of items that fit into these two categories, many different styles can be achieved when mixing antique and vintage pieces. These items can also be mixed and matched in the same room in a harmonious way. A great example of this includes incorporating an antique painting or decor item with vintage furnishings, such as a modern Eames chair. Both antique and vintage pieces have a story, and it is common to mix them together to create a room filled with conversation pieces and history.   

Vintage vs. Retro

Vintage differs from retro because of age, or the lack thereof. Vintage items are at least 20 years old and bring back a feeling of nostalgia, highlighting good times of the past. Retro items are newer items that evoke styles of times past but do not actually come from a different time era. Retro items are often more affordable than genuine vintage items, making them a great choice for those looking to fill a space with an older charm on a smaller budget. These two types of items blend perfectly since retro items are meant to look like vintage items. A perfect example of mixing these would be a kitchen and dining room combo furnished with a vintage midcentury dining table set, complimented by a retro stove or refrigerator—designed to look like it is from the 1950s or 1960s.  

Antique vs. Retro 

As stated, antiques are typically around 100 years old (or more), while a retro item has just been produced or created. Antique items include handmade wooden furnishings or old decor and equipment, such as vases and gramophones. Retro items include any newer made items that mimic styles from times past, such as furnishings with 1980s flair. Although these items have different styles and are made in vastly different time eras, the two can still sit side by side in harmony much the same as vintage and antique items can be used together, since retro items are often designed to look vintage. Examples could include a retro alarm clock placed on an antique nightstand, or an antique painting hung above a curvy retro sofa in a bold blue hue, inspired by the bright-colored maximalist trends of the 1970s and 1980s.