* Let’s start with my cilantro story. My whole life, I strongly disliked cilantro–the smell, the taste, everything. Then, all of a sudden, one day, wow. Cilantro! Where have you been all my life?!!! The smell! The taste! I now grow as much of it as I can, and pile it on my salads like a vegetable. It’s sort of like that with “old furniture” for me now, too. What I used to find stodgy and stuffy suddenly has me stopping in my tracks, rubbing wooden armrests, looking underneath seats, appreciating the quality of the materials and the workmanship behind the chair or desk or table (just as I’ve learned to appreciate heirlooms seeds, preserved from generation to generation). If you find yourself at an older relative’s home this holiday season, you may find yourself massaging wood as well. Welcome. We have hit a new stage of adulthood. See Hone and Garden Transitions from Season to Season–and One Life Stage to Another.
* I remember being mesmerized by a photo I saw in the newspaper years ago of refugees fleeing their homeland carrying all they could with them. One man carried an ornate cradle (not the one pictured), and I imagined he took it not only because he probably had a baby who used it but because it was cherished by him and his family (or perhaps he knew it had great monetary value). I own very little that I would deem worthy of carrying like that, but I’ll tell you what–I have thought of that photo a thousand times since then. As a result, I encouraged the grandparents to give my daughters several good wood gifts when they were younger so that I would have something for them to one day give to their children . They each have a wooden stool, rocking horse, and doll cradle. That’s as close to heirlooms as I can get. (See more pictures of exquisite cradles from throughout history here.)
* If your family is lucky enough to have saved and preserved quality heirloom furniture pieces, start talking them up with Mom (kick it off by asking her to tell stories about the furniture she has kept all these years–the kids will most likely love to hear these stories at the Thanksgiving table, heirloom or not). Let her know that her mother’s side chair or father’s 19th century Continental Dutch roll-top desk (such as the one pictured) will be loved and cherished in your home for years to come, and then lovingly passed down. In our cheaply-made modern throw-away society, these beloved pieces provide a special connection across generations, and a reliable piece of sturdy furniture that wisely preserves our natural resources (since you don’t have to keep replacing this item) for years to come. See Decorating with Heirlooms here.
* Pay particular attention to local heritage styles when you think “heirloom furniture.” These regional “flavors,” so to speak, are rapidly being replaced by the same cookie-cutter, mass-produced styles of Everywhere USA. Remembering where you grew up or honoring where your family first settled (or what they brought with them from the “Mother Country”) may mean that Shaker cupboard or a fancy French bed suddenly doesn’t look out of place in your home anymore. It actually provides a sense of place in your family’s history. And I like how the bed pictured here looks funky instead of fussy. You see? Anything’s possible. See Creating a “Sense of Place” for Your Home, Using Regional Architectural Details.
Need help refinishing or restoring heirloom pieces of furniture, or finding a way to fit them into your decor? Wood restoration specialists, upholsterers, and interior decorators you find on Kudzu can help. Or maybe Mom and Dad have some restoration skills you didn’t realize. No heirloom furniture in your family? Scour garage sales, or put your “heirloom energy” into your garden (it may not be too late where you live to get it going).