Online magazine StyleBlueprint just featured my new book, Past Present, with a piece featuring 10 new tips about living with heirlooms and antiques. Previously unpublished photographs add a fun twist to this article by Lauren Helmer. You can read the article below or find it at And please, if you have any photos and tips you want to share with me about creative ways to live with heirlooms and antiques,  send them to me at Thank you  StyleBlueprint!


10 Unexpected Ways to Incorporate Heirlooms

& Antiques into Your Home


China collections, antique silver cups, pretty tea sets, random oddments, traditional “brown” furniture — we all have those heirlooms and antiques that we let sit in cabinets or stow away in the attic. But you can incorporate these old items into your daily life in exciting new ways. From creative displays to inventive tablescapes, family treasures can be re-invented in modern settings, and prolific style author and design anthropologist Susan Sully is showing us how, with 10 tips for gracefully incorporating heirlooms and antiques into your daily life and home decor.

“Antiques add the touch of time and the human hand. Every dented baby cup, mended tablecloth, perfectly — or imperfectly — preserved piece of silver or porcelain tells a story that began long ago and hasn’t ended yet,” says Susan, whose most recent gorgeous coffee table book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques, is a visual feast of home interiors that gracefully intertwine old and new. “There are no rules about living with them, except to take what’s old and keep it young by making it part of daily life.” From a French neoclassical-style mansion to a mountain cottage in Highlands, North Carolina — in styles both rustic and refined — Susan shares vignettes, arrangements, tablescapes and creative displays from her new book, which seamlessly and elegantly illustrate her 10 tips for living with heirlooms and antiques.


Susan Sully’s 10 Tips for Living with Heirlooms & Antiques


1. Don’t take things too seriously.

Yes, these are your treasured family heirlooms and you don’t want to paint over the romantic patina of a gorgeous piece of timeworn furniture. But by the same token, if you have chairs just collecting dust in the attic because you do not like their color or upholstery, by all means, do what it takes to make them new and interesting! Think outside of the box like interior designer and colorist Beverly Field did with this Louis XV chair she reupholstered in a bright shade of cerise. This gives the chair a modern and striking twist that definitely makes an impression.


This Louis XV chair was re-upholstered by interior designer and colorist Beverly Field in an ultra-modern bright cerise.


2. Put small things together.

“I learned many new words for knickknacks while working on this book,” says Susan. “Bibelots, whatnots or oddments – when you have a collection of these objects, how do you arrange them without creating clutter and visual chaos?” Consider the example of Chris Howard and Carey Pickard, two preservationist who have a strong sense of material history that translates into a passion for the way objects embody history. The two surround themselves with things that don’t just look good, but also have personal meaning. Covering a table with objects picked up on travels, gifts from friends or purchases from artists, including the renowned Howard Finster, they have created a three-dimensional scrapbook that reminds them of places they’ve been and people they’ve met. Carey says what’s most important to them is the relationships between these things and memories they hold. “Their house is like a museum where you are invited to touch things, to pick up and explore the items,” says Susan.


“Like a cabinet of curiosities, a 19th-century tilt-top table holds a selection of exotic objects that invite you to look more closely,” says Susan. “Its contents include boxes of silver, boule and semi-precious jewels, branches of coral and a spiraled ammonite, Indonesian shadow puppets, a Chinese figure and an obelisk.”


“This coffee table composition includes a Lucite box filled with dirt from Graceland, Kenyan boar tusks, modern porcelain pieces — including one by Jonathan Adler — a 1970s edition of Debrett’s peerage,” explains Susan.


3. Keep things in sight.

“Don’t hide things away,” says Susan. Take all of your vintage cocktail glasses, julep cups, antique silver goblets and china, and treat them like the cherished objects that they are. Whether you put them behind glass cabinetry or atop simple shelves, this is perhaps the best way to show your antiques and heirlooms love.


This cream colored over-the-sink cupboard displays white serving ware and bone-handled cutlery in plain sight and within easy reach. The utilitarian display with a casual mix of whites offers a relaxed, effortless charm. This charming kitchen is in the home of Sonny and Barbara Adkins, proprietors of Black Sheep Antiques–the coolest going in the rural town of Harpersville, Alabama, near Birmingham.


The homeowners house their mixed collection of vintage cocktail glasses, julep cups, antique silver goblets and silver antique martini glasses on open shelves.


4. Serve tea.

One of Susan’s favorite tips for using heirlooms and antiques came from interior designer and style author Florence de Dampierre, who advises people to simply serve tea.“There is very little pressure or preparation,” says Florence. “How hard is it to boil water and put some dried fruit and cookies on a plate?” Florence uses her fine French porcelain tea set, a family heirloom, to entertain friends. “It’s a simple and elegant way to show off your antique tea sets and linens,” says Susan.


“A fine French porcelain tea set that belonged to [Florence de Dampierre’s] grandmother lends an elegance to the tea tray set on her grandfather’s 19th-century mahogany game table,” says Susan.


5. Collect interesting flatware.

Take your tablescape to the next level with intriguing antique flatware. Perhaps you have a mixture of miscellaneous cutlery — from coin silver punch ladles to bone-handled knives. Consider mixing and matching for an interesting table setting. Interior designer and style author Susan Ferrier’s collection includes this striking mix of flatware with both bone tips and silver handles. “She has an eye for the eccentric and the pieces that defy expectations,” says Susan.


A menagerie of flatware adds interest to your tablescape.

6. Find new uses for old things.

Get creative with how you use your antiques. Snip a camellia from your front yard and display it in an antique drinking vessel for an arresting vase. Or combine elegant glassware with antique furniture in a rustic environment, like this vignette in the entrance hall of a two-hundred-year-old family farmhouse in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “They’ve taken a fairly primitive piece of furniture and combined it with finer things to create a relaxed elegance,” says Susan. “Topped with beautiful cut and etched glass, a decanter, and wine coolers and housing the family’s rubber boots below, it’s a perfect example of putting an antique to good use.”


The homeowners found multiple uses for this antique dry bar in this high-traffic hallway entrance.


Stephanie Reeves, proprietor of Edgar Reeves Lighting & Antiques, specializes in making lamps out of unexpected objects. She is also the owner of this horn-handled silver tankard with a tree-bark texture. “Turning this drinking vessel into a vase is a good demonstration of her creative aesthetic,” says Susan.


7. Don’t be afraid of brown furniture.

“People often denigrate ‘brown furniture,’ but I predict that brown furniture is going to make a comeback,” says Susan.“This is the time to buy traditional dark wood furniture, whether antique or reproduction.” This traditional mahogany inlaid lowboy anchors an artistic hallway composition. And mid-century modern pieces, or “light brown furniture,” is all the rage these days. Artistic, modern upholstery gives the 1950s Danish chair below a fresh, updated look.


This hallway vignette features a mahogany inlaid lowboy, gilded Italian ballroom chair, French opaline vase, framed 19th-century hemisphere prints, Elsa Peretti candlesticks, dented silver baby cups and the homeowner’s grandmother’s stamp box.


Interior designer Fawn Galli added a twist to this piece of Danish mid-century modern “brown furniture” with a Jackson Pollock-esque splattering of black paint on white hide for the chair’s upholstery.


8. Use antiques as accent pieces in a contemporary setting or do the opposite.

Paris-born interior designer Florence de Dampierre was once named by W magazine as one of the best-dressed women in the world, and her signature style and good tastes are on full display in this chic conservatory. The room’s elegant white-and-lavender palette is complemented by contemporary furnishings, including a tree-trunk-style coffee table, a comfortable white sofa and geometric rug designed by Florence. This luminous setting allows antique chairs with dark, lustrous wood to stand out. “Adding something unusual — an unexpected object or color — makes a room interesting,” says Florence.


“In the 19th-century Litchfield home of interior designer and style author Florence de Dampierre, French doors with amber-colored glass open from a formal sitting room into a luminous conservatory,” says Susan. “While the dark wood of antique chairs grounds the pale tones of the room, a glittery 19th-century French chandelier reflects the light.”


9. Don’t be matchy-matchy.

Mix antiques and heirlooms of different styles and from different eras for rooms and tabletop compositions that refresh the eye and the imagination. You are bound to see familiar pieces in a new light. One clever way to mix and match is to group disparate items by color. In the East Hampton weekend home of fashion executives Charles Keller and Glenn Purcell, collections of tableware abound. “These cranberry glass bowls, pieces of pink-and-white English transferware, and vintage linens are among the humbler fruits of the residents’ antiquing expeditions,” says Susan. Mixing like-colored dishes in unexpected groupings like this one can create an eye-catching tablescape.


Mix antiques and heirlooms of different styles and from different eras for a refreshing change. Sort them by color for a fun twist!


10. Hang tight arrangements on a stolen wall.

“If you hang the arrangement tightly enough, you can combine just about anything. While the composition itself becomes part of the artistry, the eye is also drawn to the individual items,” says Susan. “When the arrangement is so artistic, then you don’t care if the individual pieces are of the same medium or not!” Take an overlooked, or “stolen,” wall, and use it as the backdrop for a striking display of your favorite framed treasures. “New York-based graphic designer Eric Mueller, a longtime friend of the homeowners, created this compact arrangement of miniature artwork, objects and memorabilia — dubbing it ‘The Wall of Smalls,’” says Susan of this display, which is filled with bits of East Hampton history. “Featuring locally made paintings and memorabilia from visiting friends, the montage is a celebration of place and time.”


“The Wall of Smalls” is a work of art in its own right.


So, dust off your heirlooms and antiques — or go on a hunt for some unique new finds — and put them to good use!

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your wonderful tips!

And thank you to Monacelli Press for the gorgeous images from Susan’s new book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques!



















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If the dish fits…part 2



Tip 22, part 2:  If the dish fits…USE it



This late 19th-century Aesthetic Movement tea service is one of my favorite possessions, partly because it belonged to my beloved grandmother, who had eccentric taste, and partly because I share her taste. I try to keep it in sight all the time, even if that means polishing it often…or letting it turn pewter-gray. When a bed of hydrangeas running the breadth of my house began to overflow with blue blossoms, I filled every vase I could find. Then I spied the tea service, freshly polished and sitting atop an Indian embroidered shawl of a style also favored in Victorian England. Out came the clippers, in came more hydrangeas, landing in the tea pot, sugar bowl, and cream pitcher, and the result was just as over the top and marvelous as anything my grandmother might have devised. Thank you Roberta Morris Ryan—gone but definitely not forgotten.

This tip was inspired my recent book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques. For more ideas about living with the things you love, take a look at the book.


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound

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If the dish fits…



Tip 22 part 1:  If the dish fits….



If the candy dish fits…or any other infrequently trotted out piece of silver, cut glass, porcelain, or whatever….USE it.



I moved into my Charleston house in December, so discovering what flowers bloom in the garden each season is an unfolding delight. The parade of flowers has also given me the pleasure of using many of the things I recently inherited in unexpected ways. Among these is a plethora of footed hollowware candy dishes, which I worried might languish in my silver cabinet. These were popular with the Southern bridge-playing set for serving fudge, pralines, fondant, or candied pecans, but I don’t play bridge and I don’t eat candy. Generally I use them for nuts, but when a miniature magnolia tree began producing lovely flowers about six inches across, I discovered that the footed bowls are just the right size to display these fragrant, ivory blooms. I love the way they hold the flowers slightly up in the air, the better to release their delicious lemony scent throughout the room.

This tip was inspired my recent book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques. For more ideas about living with the things you love, take a look at the book.


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.



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Bring your imagination to the table


Well, I thought 20 tips about living with heirlooms and antiques would suffice, but I’ve got so many more ideas! My readers are telling me they want more, too, so here we go with another 20 ideas about beautiful and unusual ways to use the things you love.


Tip 21: Bring your imagination to the table




Now is the time for graduation parties and wedding celebrations. Why choose predictable rental selections of gold-rimmed china and mass-produced stemware when there is so much more to use? A visit to the headquarters of Loot Vintage Rentals in Austin, Texas’s largest vintage rental company, taught me so much about how to create interesting and charming tables and party set-ups. Loot’s co-owners Rhoda Brimberry and Anna Crelia are experts at collecting vintage tableware, furniture, and just about anything else old and odd that can be put to use for unusual and engaging settings for entertaining.





On this rustic pine table, they combined vintage china in a variety of floral patterns, accompanying it with mix-and-match pressed glass stemware, unbleached linen napkins, and a runner made of hand-gathered muslin. An old box and simple brass urn hold romantic arrangements of unexpected flowers, designed by Rosehip Flora also in Austin.





Lighter than air cream puffs and lemon chiffon pie float atop a late-nineteenth century industrial trolley.  A gilded Italian occasional table and a pressed-glass cake pedestal perched on top of a salvaged column capital add elegance and textural variety to the delightfully unexpected desserts table.





At Loot Vintage Rentals, no vintage object is safe from repurposing, even an enameled baby bath, which is just the right size to serve as a champagne, beer, or water cooler.


Clearly Rhoda and Anna are experts in the art of reclaiming, recycling, and repurposing old things. One man’s (or woman’s) trash is another’s treasure. Keep that in mind when designing decorations for events you want others to treasure in their memories forever.




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Keep it local


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 8: Keep it local





Fashion executives Charles Keller and Glenn Purcell furnished their 1898 cedar-shake cottage in East Hampton with heirlooms of place—objects fabricated in the area or once owned by local families. Here, surrounding a well-provisioned cheeseboard, blue Venetian glass inherited by Keller complements silver spoons by East Hampton silversmith David Hedges, arranged in a crystal salt dish. #setthetable #pastpresent


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Dress up the garden for dinner


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 7: Dress up the garden for dinner





For al fresco parties, decorator Mary Finch often combines fine antique silver with casual contemporary pottery on a toile quilt unfurled across a long stone table. When the table decoration is completed by a flower arrangement composed within a hollow log designed by friend and floral artist Jan Miller, Finch’s vision is fulfilled in a magical way. “This is the way I show people I love them,” she says. #setthetable #pastpresent



Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Mix the formal with the relaxed


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 6: Mix the formal with the relaxed





Decorator Mary Finch likes to mix the formal with the relaxed when she sets tables for gatherings in her Birmingham home and garden, creating a sophisticated country mood whether dining indoors or out. A favorite setting for the indoor dining table combines woodland tones of antique brown and white English transferware, Mexican etched green glass stemware, and green linen napkins. Dressed up with Tiffany silver, the place settings are arranged around a centerpiece of hydrangeas arranged softly in a majolica cachepot. #setthetable #pastpresent



Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Make it modern


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.



Tip 5: Make it modern



For a contemporary effect, David Feld and partner Kurt Purdy place table settings directly on the dark granite surface of a 1985 Racetrack table designed by Joseph D’Urso for Knoll. A striking silver-and-white composition combines platinum-resist Wedgwood lusterware with flatware in two patterns, one designed in the late 20th-century design by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany and the other, the classic 18th-century Scottish shell pattern. Feld’s great-grandmother’s crocheted lace napkins add another element of style. #setthetable #pastpresent


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Never set the table the same way twice


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 4: Never set the table the same way twice



If you never set the same table twice, you will find that you use everything you own, from the exalted silver punch bowl to the humble crystal saltcellar. Treat yourself and your guests by using sterling silver, antique china, embroidered linens, flatware with hand-carved horn handles, and brilliant cut glass on a regular basis. Entirely antique place settings are exquisite, but combinations of traditional and contemporary design are equally engaging. For this luncheon party, Charleston artist Marty Whaley Adams combines heirloom tableware and linens with Mexican stemware and crystal candlesticks. #setthetable #pastpresent


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Heirlooms on the Road: When and Where

Here’s a list of all the whistle stops for my traveling antiques and heirlooms road show. Please come if you’re in the area and celebrate with me the joy of living with heirlooms and antiques.


Thursday, May 5th, 6 PM

Charleston Library Society

Lecture & Book Signing

164 King Street, Charleston



Friday and Saturday, May 6& 7, 2:30 PM

Lecture & Book Signing

Hay House Spring Stroll of Macon Houses and Gardens

Macon, Georgia



Sunday, May 8, 1 to 5 PM

Book Signing

Black Sheep Antiques

39509 Highway 25, Harpersville, AL



Tuesday, May 10, 4 to 6 PM

In the Garden—A Garden Book Debut

Hosted by Mary Finch, Circa Interiors & Antiques and Flower magazine

2405 Henrietta Road


RSVP 205-868-9199


Wednesday, May 11, 5 to 7 PM

Book Talk and Signing

Edgar Reeves Lighting and Antiques

425 Peachtree Hills Avenue, Atlanta



Images from the Charleston and Macon events have already been posted. Here are a few from the Harpersville, Birmingham, and Atlanta.







Black Sheep Antiques is the latest venture of Barbara and Sonny Adkins, who also own a plantation house in nearby Chancellorsville that has been in Barbara’s family for four generations.  With a mix of family heirlooms and country antiques collected by Barbara and Sonny, the plantation’s interior provides a hint of the quality and style of pieces featured at their shop.







In addition to being a gifted interior decorator, Mary Finch also has a great eye for garden design and a passion for entertaining. The table she sets for garden parties demonstrates her talent for layering textures, colors, and patterns at home and for her clients.







The Atlanta condominium of Stephanie and Bill Reeves reveals the same eye for beauty and creative style that can be found at Edgar Reeves Lighting and Antiques, over which Stephanie presides.


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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