Living with Heirlooms and Antiques




Not everyone knows how to live comfortably with antiques and heirlooms—especially more formal ones. We are tempted to treat them with awe and even anxiety—don’t use the “real” china…it might get chipped. Don’t sit in that chair…it’s a hundred years old…and it’s French! Don’t put that Directoire armchair next to the Danish modern one! They won’t go together.


When I recently inherited a wildly varied assemblage of furniture, fine tableware, and art, and began integrating them into my life, those don’ts began whispering in my ear. But I countered them with a new set of rules. The first was never to assume that one thing doesn’t go with another. It just might. Life is full of texture and surprise, and so should be your home.


My next rule is to be glorious greedy. Use everything you have and revel in it. Set the table until it groans. Try out every whatnot, oddment, and bibelot on every available surface. Keep adding chairs of different shapes and styles to a room until you discover by experience what really does look good together, when enough is enough, or that there is no such thing as too much.


The best way to learn something new is from other people who are doing it well—each in a different way. That’s why I wrote my new book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques (The Monacelli Press, April 2016), traveling from East Hampton, New York, to Central Texas in search of the experts. Architects, interior designers, magazine editors, collectors, house-freaks, history lovers, and people who just have a lot of stuff and know what to do with it—each one taught me something new about living with heirlooms and antiques. Now I am happy to share these insights with you in my new book and blog. Here are just a few things I’ve learned.




Shelter magazine writer and editor David Feld and Kurt Purdy combine mid-century modern chairs by Paul Frankl with a mahogany reproduction Regency table and contemporary photographic prints by Marc Quinn. The result is surprisingly compatible and inviting.




Historic preservationists Carey Pickard and Chris Howard cover a tilt-top table with small objects grouped by color. “But what is more important to us is the relationships between these things and memories they hold,” Pickard says.




Rhoda Brimberry and Anna Crelia of Loot Vintage Rentals in Austin, Texas ( intermix several floral patterns of china and pressed glass goblets to create a dressed-down dressed-up table setting. Fresh apple place-card holders make this inviting table even more, well, fresh!


Now that we’ve tabled this topic, chairs will be next. Vive la difference!



Flower magazine ( publisher Margot Shaw brings new life to a reproduction French chair with a shiny coat of spring-foliage green paint and tulip-purple upholstery.

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