If you are fortunate enough to have inherited a family heirloom but worry about your space looking too stuffy, don’t lose heart. I’m sure many of us have been faced with the dilemma of what to do with a handed down piece that we just couldn’t say no to. They have special meaning, remind us of people we love, and can add a note of heritage to your décor. But when faced with the obstacle of how to incorporate an heirloom into twenty first century décor, many get stuck.

I recently worked with a client who found herself in this predicament. Let me take you through how I dealt with exactly this challenge in this post, and share a twist that is special to me in the story.

The Home

The homeowner was well on her way to a new kitchen, transitional in styling and embracing the grey trend wholeheartedly. The perimeter was white, and the island blue-grey. Below is a snippet of how the kitchen looked when I arrived on the scene (minus the styling I did for the photo shoot).

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The Piece

The challenge arose when my client showed me a secretary desk she had inherited from her mother.  Her plea, “Could I work with it in the living room, please?” It sits neatly in a passageway between the kitchen and the living room, acting as a bridge between both spaces.

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The Serendipitous Twist

Once I opened the drawer, I confirmed what I suspected. It was made by my grandfather’s company. It was pretty easy to spot, my grandmother was a night owl and would always sit late at night and write letters at her desk – the exact same one! The brand mark is undeniable – usually located inside the top drawer. Having seen my grandmother working at her desk hundreds of times in my life, I knew just where to look!

What a special moment to share with this client. Our family’s heritages came together!

Now, the style of the kitchen and this old desk might seem to be worlds apart but with the right curation differences can work really well together in a space. Here’s what we did – and you can too!

 

The Advice

Pop in a bold colour

Try adding a bold accent.  This bright red chair already adds a note of tension (old with new) and immediately updates this vignette. When you surround an antique piece with contemporary furniture and art and use a pop of colour with the piece, heritage pieces can look right at home. The key is to find the right balance.

 

Repeat the wood tone

We repeated the wood tone in a new media unit which welcomed the desk in the space by making it feel coordinated. Also note, by adding a modern rug it amplifies the tension and complements older pieces beautifully.

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Accessorize with intention

By placing contemporary accessories on an antique, the conversation between the pieces becomes really interesting, more dynamic.  Notice how the desk seems to have modern sensibilities when styled with modern accents i.e. the silver mercury glass vase, minimalist candle holder, and some graphic stationary supplies – pens, ribbons etc.

I snuck a photo of my grandmother into the shoot with the desk because I so often remember her up late at night writing letters at her desk.

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Find the balance
Finding balance here is not a 50/50 proposition. Try to limit your vintage furniture to one or two larger pieces per space (or reverse the proportions). The 80/20 rule works well. 80 percent new with 20 percent old or vice versa.

Here is the rest of the room. You can see the end tables we selected also repeat the wood tone. The side chairs, coffee table, and side table legs play off the fret-work of the desk speaking the same visual language of line.

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And a better look at the kitchen. My client loves vibrant colour, so we dressed it up with the counter chairs and drapery panels to bring personality.  Note how we repeated the wood tone on the chairs to tie the living room, the desk space and the kitchen together.

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Want to see more of this fabulous home? See more photos in my portfolio. (Note: When you enter the house, you can see into both rooms from the entryway. When we are done renovating the stairs, I will share of a photo of the view. Stay tuned!)

Some other options to consider:

Paint

Paint it. Growing up in a furniture family, I struggle with this. A coat of paint in a bold colour can completely transform and update a piece. I just caution you to consider the value of the piece. If it is truly an antique, its value will be preserved by maintaining the original finish. Having said that, if the piece has more of a personal value than an investment, you can get fabulous results with paint.

Update the fabric

If you have a vintage chair, sofa, or settee, reupholstering with brand-new contemporary is a great makeover. Bold graphic patterns, humble ticking fabric, or any other unconventional textile will provide an instant lift.

If you’re still stymied, give us a call.