Decorating With Family Heirlooms Explained

There are endless possibilities when it comes to decorating with family heirlooms and incorporating them into your home decor.

What To Do With The Heirloom

If you’re like most people, you likely have a few items that have been passed down through the generations. Some of these items are attractive and we absolutely love them for both their aesthetic and for the connection to our past. While with others we may love what they represent but not how they look.

Some of these items may hold financial value but most often it is the sentimental value that has us passing them down through the years. The problems arises when these nostalgic items just don’t fit into our decorating style. Or when they are a bit… dare I say, ugly.

That doesn’t mean however, that you should necessarily pass on these items or get rid of them. No one here is suggesting that we insult Aunt Sally and her extensive collection of laced doilies. I’m simply suggesting that you reevaluate these items in a new light.

To help you to do that I have put together some creative ways in which you can successfully decorate with your heirlooms. With a touch of imagination and a willingness to think outside the norm you can easily and stylishly incorporate these pieces into your home.

Why Do People Keep Family Heirlooms?

Just under 50% of the population owns a family heirloom. While that’s certainly not everyone that is a huge number of households.

And who can blame them? There are definitely some sound reasons for keeping your family keepsakes. And once you know how to work them into your home decor they can provide a lot of charisma. Their old world charm creates interest and can add a touch of much needed character.

With a basic understanding of style and some intentional decorating you can easily blend family heirlooms in with your current decor. So, let’s proudly display our family memorabilia. After you are done reading this you will no longer have to shy away from showing off those beloved family items.

Tips for Successfully Decorating with Family Heirlooms

Decorating successfully with family pieces all comes down to a little bit of know how. These simple tips will help you take the the guess work out of decorating with your family heirlooms.

If Granny’s stool is a dark coloured wood with an embroidered cover and you’re more into cottage coastal then paint the wood in a distressed white finish and replace the cover with a ticking durable fabric.

Don’t limit your options by looking at an object in only one way. Old chair spindles can be turned into dish towel racks, copper wash pots make fabulous planters, or turn Grandma’s plaid blanket into a charming Christmas tree skirt.

Ask yourself:

Does this work with everything else? Is this in the right colour? Does it offer the texture this space needs? Is it the right size for this space? If not, find a place in your home where the piece fits better or modify it so that does.

Only keep the pieces that you truly love or that have real sentimental value. Don’t make something work just because Grandpa once had it hanging in the den. If it doesn’t fit your style and it can’t be modified to fit your style don’t decorate with it.

Incorporating old pieces in with your new things adds interest and character. Keep in mind colour, texture and shape. Repeating an element will help keep things cohesive. Lastly, you’ll want to have a couple of pieces from the same era within the space. (These can be accessories.)

Since these are all items with sentimental value attached make sure that you first educate yourself on the proper methods before you attempt any alterations. A little research will go a long way.

What Is Considered a Family Heirloom? And How Do I Display Them?

A family heirloom is an object of value that is passed down through the generations. This property can hold financial or sentimental value or both. Most often it is sentimental value that has us passing these items down. Family heirlooms can be almost anything.

Here is a list of the most the commonly passed down home decor heirlooms and a few ideas on how you can decorate them:

Furniture pieces

Whether big or small one of the most common of the family heirloom is the furniture. Furniture can be used anywhere in the home. If the colour or wood tone doesn’t work for you then paint or restain the piece. Reupholstering a fabric piece for a more modern look can revitalize an outdated piece.

Another way to use old furniture in new ways is to convert it into something it was never meant to be. Such as: an old dresser has a sink added to it and it becomes a bathroom vanity or an old wooden tool box because a window sill herb planter.


Can hold a lot of memories and help us to carry on traditions. I’ve kept all the books I had as a child. When I had children these were placed in their rooms and one day they will grace the grandkid’s rooms at the cabin. You can also frame old children’s books.

Old, leather bound books look fabulous displayed on open shelves or placed under a decorative item for a table top display.

Holiday Ornaments

Christmas ornaments are often passed down through the generations. If you like it as is, display it proudly on your tree.

If however, you don’t like they way it looks, but you still want to keep it try painting it, modify it with embellishments, or have a special tree that is just for displaying those ornaments and keep your main tree for the ornaments you’ve personally selected.

Candle holders

Are both decorative and practical. If they are silver but tarnished and you want to keep them as is, give them a good and proper clean and display proudly.

If however, you’re not a fan of the look then consider spray painting them a colour that you do like. Another option is to turn them into a pedestal tray or use as a base to prop up a picture frame. For an extra classy and sentimental touch, put a black and white picture of the loved one in the frame.

Old family photographs

Especially the old black and white photographs or coloured images done is an artistic fashion are often coveted. To decorate with these frame them in quality frames and either place strategically around the home or maybe create a gallery wall in a popular family space. You can also arrange these in simple leather bound photo albums and then display them in a book shelf or on a coffee table.

PRO TIP: If doing a gallery wall the frames don’t have to match but to make the display look cohesive have them all in the same colour with the same coloured matting.


Really shouldn’t be messed with but a new frame and matting can make a world of difference. Since this is a heirloom, I strongly recommend that you have a professional do this and that you splurge on the best quality materials that you can afford.


Especially those lace doilies, can be difficult to know what to do with. Consider turning fabrics into quilts, throw pillow cases, curtains, or even a Christmas tree skirt. Frame or simply hang beautiful blankets for wall art. Cut up old fabrics and make homemade Christmas ornaments that can then be passed on.

For doilies, try framing them, embellish throw pillow covers, or create homemade ornaments for the holidays.

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Paper weights / Letter openers

Make beautiful additions to any desk, or family command center. Or use these as decorative additions is open shelving arrangements or with table to displays. Again, a simple paint job often does the trick if you don’t love the colour or the look .


I mean, common. Who doesn’t love a good basket? Use these to store linens. Place them around the home with blankets or shawls in them for people to help themselves. Use to organize everyday objects or as storage in open shelving. I mean, the options are endless.


The good stuff should be used. Gone are the days of putting the silverware away and only touching it at Christmas dinner. Take these beauties out as often as possible and use them in your table settings.


The same can be said for your heirloom china. Stop hiding it away in cabinets that look like they came straight out of the ’90s. Use your china to create beautiful tablespaces, display on the wall or in window sills, and don’t be afraid to mix and match. Sometimes mismatched china looks more charming then having every piece the same.


Are a source of pride for many of us. Our ancestors bravery is something to be commended and honoured. To do this, take them out of the drawer and lovingly place them in a shadow box to display. This can be done individually or grouped in a larger frame.

PRO TIP: Use a matting that is a solid colour that will allow the metals to pop. Such as: white, black, or navy. And if there are several metals consider arranging these clustered in serval boxes in a group rather than in one big frame full of metals. This will look more current and will allow each metal to shine.

Kitchen utensils

The farmhouse kitchen really lends itself to these kind of items. Old kitchen tools, coffee grinders and hob pots look fabulous displayed either on open shelving, in display cabinets, or framed and mounted as wall art.

If however, you’re not into the whole farmhouse look consider using these items in unique ways. Maybe use the wooden, family coffee grinder as a book end or group together old kitchen tools and spray paint them one colour. Mount this onto a long picture frame and display as wall art.


Especially one written is a loved one’s hand or one that has been passed down through multiple generations can be as practical as they are sentimental. Proudly display these traditions by framing them and using them as wall decor. Or have a special recipe transferred onto tea towels or an apron so that you can show them off in a unique way.

Children’s toys

You want to be little careful with this one because many old toys can carry lead in the paint. That being said, if you are decorating with old family toys there are several ways you can show them off.


Make wonderful heirlooms. When possible, plant them outside in the garden for a touch of natural decor. Once they bloom bring some in to display in vases around your home.

For those plants that can’t go outside, display them in a beautiful pot and make sure that you care for it properly. These make wonderful gifts for others or future generations.

Faux Pas Decorating with Family Heirlooms Questions… Answered

When it comes to decorating with family heirlloms a few questions and concerns seem to pop up. To help you with these, I have tried to answer the most common faux pas questions. By the time you’re done reading this you should be more then equipped.

As nice as having family heirlooms can be, there are those times when getting rid of an heirloom is your best option.

These include:
  • If it’s damaged, stained, or broken
  • Heirlooms that are just plain ugly
  • Pieces that will only add clutter but no style to the space
  • Items that just don’t match your style no matter what you do to them
  • Anything that brings up bad memories

Just because a past family member once possessed an item doesn’t mean that you have to keep it. If it just doesn’t work let yourself off the hook and either decline it or give it to another family member or get rid of it.

Good gosh no! Giving your heirloom a makeover may be what is needed to make a piece work. Styles change so don’t be afraid to give that piece a pit of paint, or a new fabric. Or convert the piece into a whole new, unique piece.

So, you’ve decided this family heirloom is not for you. Now what do you do with it?

Here are a few options:
  • If it’s being offered and just don’t want it politely decline.
  • Give it to another family member who does want it or could use it.
  • Sell it on Ebay, Facebook Market Place, or Kijiji
  • Donate it to a museum
  • Donate it to a thrift store

There can be a lot of guilt associated with family heirlooms. Don’t buy into this. Memories are not in objects and neither is the loved one who has passed. And your home is your sanctuary. So skip the guilt and do what’s best for you and your home.

I can’t answer this one because I haven’t been able to solve it myself. If you have the answer please share in the comments below. I’m sure I’m not the only wife with this issue.

Jenny’s Finishing Thoughts on Decorating With Family Heirlooms

So don’t leave your family heirlooms sitting in storage just gathering dust. Put them on display in your home with one of these unique ideas for decorating with family heirlooms.

If you have some family heirlooms that you’re not sure what to do with, don’t worry. With a little bit of creativity, you can easily incorporate them into your home in a way that looks amazing and is true to you.

Do you have any family heirlooms that you’ve styled in your home? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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