“Anyone may have diamonds: an heirloom is an ornament of quite a different kind.” – Elizabeth Aston
In 1932, George Liebenstein gave Maud Taylor a silver tea set engraved with initials “MTL” to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. More than eight decades later, it sits in our home, reminding us of our family’s past.
Recently a friend confided that her children, like most millennials, aren’t interested in keeping the family heirlooms. She wonders what will become of these treasured pieces passed down for generations. The Seattle Times published an article this summer titled “As millennials reject heirlooms, boomers ask, ‘What do we do with all this stuff?’”
The majority of my clients are millennials. When we start our design process, I always ask for art and other objects their parents might part with. I then incorporate some of these pieces of decor to make their homes feel unique, special and authentic.
Their homes are usually more streamlined, with fewer built-ins and niches to showcase objects, so we have to be selective and rework some of these pieces to fit their style. I love to throw an ashtray on top of a stack of books, or use a tea pot for a bookend in a bookcase. Their parents’ art pieces look unique in a home office or in the entryway, often updated by reframing.
When my husband’s father died and his mother downsized, we were the lucky recipients of an antique rug, old books and a gorgeous sofa from the early 1900s, as well as the silver tea set mentioned above. My house already felt full, but I immediately inventoried my space because I knew keeping these pieces was important. I donated things that meant less to me than these heirlooms we inherited.
The rug is red and blue, deeply saturated, where my home was warm neutral. When I turned the rug upside down, the rich colors were softened, the pattern looked fresh like an embroidery and worked with my interiors. Layering a rug like this on a sisal or jute carpet was also an updated way to temper the pattern and color.
The carved wooden-framed sofa from the early 1900s was reupholstered, making it feel updated and unique to me and my taste.
The silver tea set that at first felt heavy was separated and the pieces placed throughout our home. The creamer and teapot have a special spot in a bookcase along with a silver clock. The large silver tray was placed on a console under the television in the den, holding not only the remote, but also a photo of our children and a limestone carved key I picked up on vacation in New Zealand. At a recent dinner party, I served our guests cocktails on this beautiful tray.
The coffee pot sits proudly in our guest room on a small desk. l love the shape with the monogrammed engraving. The other creamer was given to my daughter in Southern California, where it can hold a small bouquet of fresh flowers and be placed by her kitchen sink or in her powder room, reminding her of her paternal roots.
Taking these pieces and reworking them to fit your style can be done with ease. Everything old can, in fact, be new again – now more than ever.
Celeste Randolph is an interior designer in Los Altos. For more information, visit celesterandolphdesigns.com.