Chic Ways to Use Family Heirlooms

Lately I have found myself drowning in family possessions - not the usual “kid clutter,” which I’d gotten good at figuring out over the years, but frankly “senior clutter,” things passed down from Ted’s late dad & my late mom. Thankfully both sides of the family have beautiful pieces, but it’s been hard to tease apart the sentimentality of pieces with what is really best for the way we live.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far & some examples I want to emulate. Let me know if you have any tips!

1. Audit your spaces to make sure there’s something modern, fresh in each area of the room - otherwise the effect can be one of an antique store. It happens slooooowly and invisibly - you put an old photo in an old frame on an antique table & boom, it gets Miss Havisham without you even realizing!

I like looking at the work of Kentucky-based designer Matthew Carter who always does beautiful job blending antiques with smart new accents…

— look at the composition of the scene Carter created: modern geometric pattern on the rug, with vintage chandelier, classic chairs smartly updated with upholstery…he has such flair in this department!! ( Photo via Matthew Carter Interiors )

— look at the composition of the scene Carter created: modern geometric pattern on the rug, with vintage chandelier, classic chairs smartly updated with upholstery…he has such flair in this department!! (Photo via Matthew Carter Interiors)

2. Using brown furniture does not automatically make your space look dated. Look how amazing designer Sarah Bartholomew uses abstract art, fresh upholstery, unfussy curtains to give the whole room a more current & comfortable feel….with brown furniture right there front & center!

Photo via Sarah Bartholomew Design

Photo via Sarah Bartholomew Design

3. One of the pitfalls of decorating with family heirlooms is QUANTITY - we tend to layer & layer & not realize the stifling effect it can have - CHOOSE YOUR BEST & FORGET THE REST. A great example of this ability is the ever-chic Loi Thai (whose blog Tone on Tone is a must follow)….

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Loi uses antiques (i.e. the three tables in this scene) & lots of historical references, but the whole tableau is so EDITED, it gives you room to breathe - which is a quality I think we all relish in modern spaces.

My FAVORITE piece of furniture (perhaps I’ve shown you before?), the Swedish table above, which I bought from Loi — mixed in with paintings by my dad, framed more simply than usual, plus mix of family photos, old and new….

My FAVORITE piece of furniture (perhaps I’ve shown you before?), the Swedish table above, which I bought from Loi — mixed in with paintings by my dad, framed more simply than usual, plus mix of family photos, old and new….

4. If you’re working with older architecture, i.e; lots of millwork, or more formal chandeliers that may have come with the house, think about transitional accents (modern pillows & artwork, more casual rugs) to give the space some oomph. I love how Aerin Lauder’s house uses this formula in her NYC apartment by Daniel Romualdez…

Photo from Aerin Lauder’s  Beauty At Home

Photo from Aerin Lauder’s Beauty At Home

4. Maybe the best rule of thumb as you look at your spaces is Yin/Yang — if something is old & precious, then pair it with something light & modern. Below is a work-in-progress shot of my bedroom in Georgetown (still need a headboard!) with gallery wall that includes a Chagall lithograph (“Hegedus in the Desert”) that my grandmother bought in Paris right after WWII….

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The Chagall used to be in an ornate, heavily carved wooden frame & just felt lifeless. My friend Megan introduced me to a GREAT framer who recast the piece in whole new light! A modern boxy frame was just what was needed.

5. The hardest lesson for me is to try to separate your feelings about the piece from your feelings about its backstory or whom it belonged to….I have been keeping too many “things” around, thinking it is only way to kind of keep loved ones’ memories alive. But a story, a song, a letter tucked in a drawer can easily do the same thing — and not leave you living in some kind of shrine or mausoleum-feeling place!

This is where I’m writing you from — old chairs that I painted black, recovered in Carolina Irving “Patmos Stripe,” easy seagrass rug, some Irish crystal….all in all, a happy spot.

This is where I’m writing you from — old chairs that I painted black, recovered in Carolina Irving “Patmos Stripe,” easy seagrass rug, some Irish crystal….all in all, a happy spot.

I would LOVE to know how you approach this subject - please email me Lee@ElegantMayhem.com with any tips you have found. And also, in upcoming posts I’m going to try to bring you some product resources/references so that you can more easily find items that might be useful in each scene. I’m still learning & experimenting on that front, but it’s in the works!

Cheers & thanks,

Lee

InteriorsLeland Prince