HOW TO

Incorporating Heirlooms in Your Home

Sarah Macklem of The Yellow Cape Cod helps her clients come up with creative solutions on how to incorporate heirlooms into their homes.

Sarah Says…

If you’ve inherited a piece of furniture or received something from a close friend, it can be hard to decide how to incorporate it into your home, or even if you should. Whether it’s an heirloom quality piece that’s been in the family for decades or a small, inexpensive, tchotchke given to you by a dear friend, these items can carry sentimental value. It’s not always easy to determine how you will use or display these things.

Why is it important to incorporate sentimental items in my home décor?

I often make a point of using items that have sentimental value in my interior designs. I feel that things that speak to your soul and tell the story of your life should be in your home. Sentimental objects are the ultimate personalization in design and make your home special and unique. We feel happier when we surround ourselves with things that spark fond memories, pay homage to loved ones or honor our heritage.

What do I do if I’m given something that doesn’t fit into my design style?

Sometimes pieces that don’t necessarily represent the overall style of a space can still be used and blend in seamlessly. I tend to give a very style specific item a supporting role in the design as opposed to making it a main feature or focal point.

Green rug with glass coffee table and flowers
Design by The Yellow Cape Cod | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

When my husband and I got married, he brought his grandmother’s antique glass and iron table that he inherited into our home. It was different in style and in age from the other design elements in our living room, but you can see how it fits right in and gives our room a curated, eclectic look. It is not the first thing your eye is drawn to, but it’s a pretty accent. The ornate design and curves featured on the legs soften the hard edges and simplistic styling featured on the other pieces in the room. I also love how the unexpected gold finish introduced a metallic element. It inspired a few other gold accent pieces around the room that would otherwise be missing from the design.

What if I have something with a lot of meaning, but it’s large and I don’t have room for it?

This is a problem I’ve faced a few times. When we moved, my daughter’s new room was too small for her queen four-poster bed. The bed had a ton of warm and fuzzies attached to it since it was a gift given to her when she was a small child by her grandparents. It was her “Princess Bed” as she appropriately named it. The thought of letting it go was tough, so we got creative. The piece didn’t have a lot of monetary value, so we decided to cut it up and repurpose the headboard and footboard as a floating desk. The desk fits perfectly in the corner of her new room. We even made the vintage piece look modern by adding a contemporary chair and accessories. Not only did it make us happy that we were able to keep it and use it, but it made her room look fun and unique.

What if I don’t want to drastically alter my piece?

If your piece is not something you want to make permanent changes to, don’t cut it up! Try your piece out in a few different rooms before deciding if you have a spot for it. You may be surprised at how your plans for a room can evolve once an unexpected item is brought in. This process may also inspire you to use a piece differently than it was originally intended to fill a need you have. Your great uncle’s vintage storage trunk could make a really cool coffee table. Granny’s antique sewing machine could be a foyer table or nightstand. Your mother-in-law’s antique dresser could be the perfect height to use as a media stand or as a buffet server in your dining room. Can you believe I even found an alternate way to use my granny’s vintage milk glass ashtrays? They made adorable candle holders on the family dinner table.

Christmas tree in living room with black mirror and black cabinet and white candles
Design by The Yellow Cape Cod | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

What if I didn’t inherit anything and nobody ever gave me anything? ☹

Flowers next to blue and white tea mug
Design by The Yellow Cape Cod | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

If you want to create a feeling of heritage and nostalgia in your home or you would like to pay homage to a loved one or place in time, you don’t need to wait around for someone to pass something down to you. You can easily achieve this by collecting your own items.

Thrift shops and antique malls are a great place to go. It could be fun to hunt for something that reminds you of a certain place, person or event. When I go treasure hunting, I’m always drawn to vintage blue willow dishes. They remind me of the huge family Thanksgiving dinners my mom hosted when we were little, and I’m immediately back in my childhood home, sitting at my mom’s impeccably set blue table watching my dad carve the turkey and my brother pinching his nose as he forced down the green peas. Even if I didn’t have a piece of blue willow from my mom, it would still bring me these feels.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes when we inherit something, it comes at an unexpected time. If you can’t decide where to use or display it right away, it’s okay to pack it away. You may not be able to think of the perfect place now, but later you may have a room that’s missing something and needs a little soul. This piece could do the trick. Some items could just be brought out for certain seasons, like special glasses, or while entertaining, like china. I bring my husband’s grandmother’s serving pieces out only during the holidays.

If you have something that means a lot to you, find a way to work it into your home, even if you have to change up your design plans a little and think outside the box.  This(below) is a coat rack that my grandmother made and gave to me. I don’t have a spot for a coat rack so I’m using it as a bathroom towel hanger.

While I’m sentimental, I’m not one to hold on to everything. I only keep the things that I truly love.

I’ve acquired things from people that I love and miss very much and decided not to keep them. I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about letting go of something. At the end of the day, things are just things. They are not the people we love or the experiences we hold. Letting go of a material item does not mean we are letting go of our memories or our love for someone. We can always close our eyes and imagine our childhood dinners without having a collection of dishes nearby.

Dining room placement with flowers and china and towel rack with candle on top
Design by The Yellow Cape Cod | Like this look? Get inspired by her room.

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