At some point in our lives you may acquire furnishings from your parents, grandparents, and others. If you are lucky, you know the stories about each piece and they bring you warm memories. As much as you love the pieces and the family members they came from, let's face it - the pieces are likely OLD and possibly not your current style. Even so, mixing and matching can bring character and interest to your space.
When you have little to no space for these treasures or really would prefer someone else enjoy them, don't feel guilty. Take pictures of Grandma's armoire or Aunt Judy's secretary desk and document anything you know about its age, style, and one or two good memories about it, then pass it on to another family member or sell it to someone who loves it. You can still pass on your family history with the pictures and notes you wrote about the item.
Here is a link to a journal that can be used just for this purpose.
If you absolutely want to keep your family heirloom, bringing an old piece into a more contemporary style can be tricky but well worth it. If you don't know how to incorporate it into your current style, here are some ideas to consider: restore, re-purpose, up-cycle.
You may find your furniture piece is in need of repair, refinishing, or reupholstering. I don't advise you take on these tasks unless you are particularly skillful in these areas. Professionals can ensure you end up with an item that will last for many more years. You don't want to end up with a blemish that you have to see for years to come if you make an attempt on a valuable antique for the first time and botch the job.
Once the piece is fully repaired, refinishing will give you the opportunity to change the color with stain or paint. Your choices here should be driven by your style and the proximity to other furnishings. If repairs where extensive, your only choice may be to paint it to cover up the repairs. Use light bright colors for a pop of excitement, dark jewel tones for a moody feel, or neutrals like white, black, gray, or blue. Yes, blue has become the latest neutral! If your room needs a shot of warmth, and the wood is in good shape, have it stained a shade that compliments your existing color scheme, but doesn't wash out with too much of a match to the flooring if you have wood floors.
I will say that upholstering or creating slip covers is expensive, so be sure the bones of your item are in very good shape and you really love the piece. A reputable upholsterer should be able to tell you if it is worth saving. And why is upholstering expensive? I made 2 slip covers for wing backed chairs I acquired and boy-oh-boy did it take me a long time to complete them! I chose to create cording around the cushions and main lines of the chair. I put in a zipper to ensure I could remove the covers easily. I added Velcro to the bottom to have a tight fit and eliminate movement of the cover while using the chair. My sewing machine (and needles) took a beating as I tried to sew together several layers of upholstery grade fabric. Material choice can make your project even more expensive if you want to use a patterned or pattern textured fabric. A good upholsterer will line up patterns so that you see the pattern featured, not create a new pattern on each corner or side of your furniture piece. That requires a LOT of fabric.
Mixing a furniture piece that has old style lines with a modern patterned fabric is a perfectly on-trend way to mix the old with the new. Choose a fabric with colors that work well with your existing color scheme and keep in mind how the piece is used to consider the properties of the fabric so it holds up to moisture, pets, kids, etc.
You may already have a piece of furniture in the type of space used by the 'new' family heirloom you acquired. That doesn't mean you can't use it. Let's take the example of a large armoire. There are some really beautiful antique armoires out there. They can add additional storage for a bedroom - that's obvious! They can also be placed in a large entry room for coat storage, or a sewing room for hanging fabric.
Do you have an old chest? Another great piece for storage! If it's flat on top, you could add a cushion and gain a seat for your entry way, the foot of the bed, or you could use it as a coffee table without the cushion. Keep it in your closet to store seasonal clothing or shoes and it may also help serve as a step up to reach those items on upper shelves.
No matter what the piece is, think about each room in your home and all the potential functions the piece could serve. Dressers can become bedside tables, game storage, entry way storage, and more.
This is my favorite topic when it comes to finding ways to mix old furnishing with new. If the piece is not worth saving due to extensive damage, again, don't feel guilty about tossing it out. If there is a portion of it that has some unique detail you may be able to salvage that part and up-cycle it. I'm planning to use the ornate front of an old upright piano as art. I've already created a clock from its keys!
Put rollers on dresser drawers when the rest of the unit is not usable, then use the drawers as under bed storage. Add casters to a dresser and you have a work surface that can be moved almost anywhere. Add casters and long handles to each side of a baby changing table and a bar cart is born!
Paint side tables, add tile to the top from scraps you can get from a Habitat Re-store or your own past projects, and you will have one of a kind patio tables.
If you acquired a small dining table but don't need one, consider having the legs shortened and using it as a coffee table.
The ideas here are endless. Searching on your favorite internet sites will give you loads of ideas on what others have done with older furnishings either acquired or bought for the sheer fun of creating budget friendly useful items that can be mixed and matched with your current furnishings.
I, Brenda Szarek, am the founder of Autumn Light Interiors. I have immersed myself in home design and problem solving for years. I have creative solutions for those transitioning their life. I hope you enjoy my tips, tricks, trends, and inspiration to help you find your way to a well-designed, comfortable, and functional home you can be excited to live in and welcome others within.