Design 101- Decorating with Heirlooms & Antiques

In the past several Design 101’s we’ve been discussing the importance of balance in creating spaces that are pleasant and cohesive.

One aspect of design that can often be overlooked by homeowners is the balance of new and old.

How to decorate with antiques and heirlooms
via Houzz

Designers love shopping antiques stores!  Why?  Because they know for a home to feel personal and unique (
and homey) there must be a mix of new store bought items and ‘older’ items that appear to tell a story.

How to decorate with antiques


Imagine if you filled your home with let’s just say a bunch of home décor from Target.  Target has some awesome décor items these days but it would just look like a Target store display–something would be lacking.

Balancing store bought decor and heirlooms

via Target

Visa versa what if you just decorated your home with solely a bunch of family heirlooms and antiques?  Your home might look a bit too eclectic and outdated.

via French Market Antique Store

So what is a good balance of new and old?  There is no set ratio but if I had to make  one up I would say  a good ratio is 4:1 or 5:1.  For every 4 or 5 store bought items having a 1 antique or more personal item is a good balance.

When shopping at stores or antique markets it is important to only purchase items that you love!  Similarly when you are given family heirlooms decorate with them only if you love it or the particular item has special meaning to you.

Displaying old books is a great an easy way to make your home feel more cozy and homey.

How to add character to your home

I have had friends who have been given items from grandparents or other relatives and who feel obligated to display them in their home.  They love their relative but the item is not their taste.

I don’t think we should ever feel that displaying a certain item in our home equates love.  There are lots of other ways we can celebrate our loved ones and keep their memories alive.  So please don’t ever feel obligated to decorate with heirlooms you’ve been given.

On the other hand if you do love the heirloom item by all means decorate with it!  A few years ago my paternal Grandmother passed away.  I have great memories of visiting her home throughout my childhood and into my adult years.  Her home was magical–it was filled with love, cozy snuggles on her lap, delicious meals and sweets, and family time with Aunts and Uncles and cousins.

After she passed away I had the opportunity to choose some items from her home to bring home with me.  This is what I chose:

1. A silly framed photo of a man and woman dressed in colonial attire.

Decorating with Hierlooms


This framed photo was in my Grandma and Grandpa’s basement bathroom.  They had a finished basement that served as guest quarters when we (and other relatives) came into town.

I took it home with me because I like colonial décor and I like that it is kind of a random, silly photo.  I definitely have a silly side to my personality which I believe comes from both of my grandmother’s (we have a picture of this grandmother on a skate board and she was known to run aside (race) our car down the street when we left from visiting her home well into her 80’s).

The framed picture is now in our dining room.

colonial picture antique Decorating with antiques


2.  Another item I took was this great, large, textured basket.

basket for holding toys


It held loads of magazines in her basement.  In my home it is a keeper of toys in the family room.  When I don’t want to see the toys I just put a throw on top as shown above.

Decorating with old and new decor


3.  I also took this wood vintage Pespi bottle holder.

How to decorate with antiques


I liked the vintage look and Pepsi resonates in our home because my husband is a BIG Mountain Dew drinker which is Pepsi product.  It sits on the sofa table behind our couch in our family room.

How to Decorate with Heirlooms


4.  Lastly, I took my Grandma’s pitcher and basin.

How to Decorate with Antiques

It used to sit on her buffet table in the dining room where we would eat the delicious family meals she cooked for us. It reminds me of a basin of water and it is what I imagine Jesus using when he washed his disciples feet after the Last Supper. It reminds me of serving others and showing love and it’s new home is in my master bathroom between the sinks.

Even if a home had the most stylish store bought pieces it would be lacking if it didn’t contain some personal or unique items from the past.  Decorating with a few antiques and heirlooms (that you love) infuses personality, interest, and warmth into our homes and help them feel like home.

How have you incorporated antiques and heirlooms into your home?  Do you think a 5:1 ratio sounds about right?

For more Design 101 posts you can read HERE.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!!


I Love Hearing from You!

  1. I totally agree that you need to incorporate antiques and heirloom items to keep a home from looking too commercial. I love the items you chose from your grandmother. My husband’s grandmother passed away several years ago and many of my favorite items in our home came from her.

  2. I completely agree! My friend just redecorated her home and put a lot of antiques in it and it looks amazing! I personally love antiques and miss matched things. I cringe when I see people just throwing old things away, especially when you can take the old and upcycle it into something new and fun with a vintage touch…i love it so much that my friend and I opened a store called American Clutter! Anyway love the post!! Have a great holiday weekend and keep rockin!

    • Wow, Jess, that’s awesome you opened a store!! I’m glad you mentioned upcycling. Upcycling can definitely give your home a one of a kind, personalized look and is usually a very budget friendly way to decorate! Look for a upcycling post in the future! 🙂 Thanks for visiting!!

  3. Love that you have some of your grandmother’s treasured heirlooms. My house is mainly decorated in furniture inherited from our parents and grandparents, and I love each one. .

    ~ Mary

  4. I have a few questions for you! Hope you can help!!!

    I’m more of the 1:5 ratio of old to new. It’s so hard for me to part with these beautiful items I was lucky enough to inherit. I have an oak antique buffet with the mirror, a matching wash stand, an entire bedroom set, which was my grand parents first set ever purchased:). I have 2 ladder back chairs, 2 other fabric sitting chairs, and another pair of sitting chairs! Also 2 rocking chairs, secretary roll top desk, a grandfather clock that doesn’t work anymore, a china cabinet and so many sets of China, I could never use them all. Along with all of her crossstitch work and antique linens, I have NO IDEA as to what to do with it. All the wood is brown, oak, etc. I know she would want me to enjoy them, however, I certainly don’t want to ruin them. My other thought is, I will always keep them in our family, so even if it was painted I’m not concerned with the value. It’s just SO much. I feel my house is brown brown brown!!!
    I’m also interested to know if you have any tips on getting good deals on rugs? Rugs have to be replaced around here pretty frequently, therefore not allowing for a big budget. Ideas appreciated!

    Lastly, I’m VERY interested to find out how you painted your sofa so perfectly. Ours is not a solid microfiber like yours looked to be. The fabric is similar to a tweed, but it’s not tweed. I have 3 small kids and 2 little dogs. The last thing I want to do is purchase a new couch now. We’ve cleaned it a hundred times, I vacuum it daily, and I’ve considered taking it outside and hosing it down or even pressure washing it! Painting it May just be my answer.

    • Hi, Amy, I can tell how much you respect your grandparents by the way you want to treasure their belongings. Truth is there are many other ways to keep their memories alive then by holding on their things. I would really only keep the things that you truly love and that work well in your home. You could take pictures of the items that don’t really work in your home and keep the pictures instead (pictures will take up a lot less space then the actual item). If you think the item is beautiful and it brings you happiness keep it. If not donate it to a thrift store. Or if you think you would like the piece of furniture better if it was another color here is a tutorial I just did to painting wood furniture, I truly believe our ancestors want us to be happy and if that means us needing to let go and giveaway some of their stuff then I think that is completely fine with them (taking pictures and keeping their memories alive that way is just as meaningful). Here are a few posts I’ve done about getting good deals on rugs and To answer your question about the couch here is a 1 year update post I did about the couch, If it is your everyday relax in couch I’m not sure I would paint it. If you could spare spending $100 on a “new” couch I would look on Craigslist. You can get some really good deals on couches off of Craigslist because people are moving and don’t want to take them with them. I got the loveseat in my family room off of Craigslist for $60. It was in perfect condition. Just a idea. Thanks for reaching out, Amy! I hope this helps in some way!!:-)

  5. Love mixing antiques and family vintage ware and heirlooms w new purchases in my 1920s cottage!
    How can I share pictures?
    I have a great antique table in my dining room mixed w fun items from Company C, Pottery Barn and even Marshalls!