Showing Off the Family Heirlooms

by Julie Sturgeon

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No doubt you consider the attic a black void in which to relegate those odd hand-me-downs. But easily one-third of a homeowner's hidden goods can become stunning décor throughout your house, says Judy Nixon, interior designer and owner of Pulling It All Together. Nixon and other experts carry just one secret to their rose-colored glasses view: think outside the box.

"People get hung up because an item is out of date, and that's not the point," says Rosemary Parson, an interior decorating hobbyist. "Look at your old item's color, structure and texture, then put it in those rooms that reflect those qualities." With this philosophy, an ugly plate with staid fruit painted in the middle is evaluated on its deep blue tones, which blend excellently as a plant stand in the sunroom.

Nixon also suggests you begin by cleaning up the item (particularly wood furniture pieces such as old rockers and chests) with a bit of Formby's Facelift. "You'd be surprised how much of a drab appearance is merely dirt," she notes.

Frame It

Take any item to a framer, and she likely can turn it into a work of art. That's precisely what one retired gentleman did when he brought his stash of old eyeglasses he'd saved over the years to Karen Drake Puskarich, owner of Masterpiece Gallery & Framing. As a tribute to the success of his refractive eye surgery, they combined the framed eyewear with an eye chart, a cartoon, and a poor vision joke, which provided the perfect light-hearted mood for a game or bar area.

Among the items she's seen residents use include a doorplate and iron keys, teacups and bowls, sports jerseys, golf score cards, old handbags, sheets of music and business cards. Don't overlook items you want to use, either. One homeowner designed a custom hanging jewelry box so she could display the family jewels and still wear them to special occasions.

Sentimental quilts, when not used as bedspreads for the guest room or master suite, represent the most popular heirloom-to-artwork transformation, according to Nixon. But before you clip it to a decorative rod, however, hold the quilt up to light. If it's translucent, the fibers have likely broken down until the fabric is too thin to hold its weight as a wall hanging. In that case, consider preserving it behind glass.

Think Creatively

Parson's twist involves draping floor rugs around her home, including a 40-year-old Indian covering she picked up at a garage sale. The rug is but a fraction of out-of-the-box thinking Parson and Nixon use to turn houses into cozy spaces and conversation showplaces. Take a page from these examples:

  • Parson sorted through a collection of old books, stacked them by color and placed a custom-cut glass sheet atop them to create a coffee table. The glass' weight generally secures the books (provided you've chosen a safe height and width that matches your needs), but Parson recommends staggering every other book for more strength. If children streak through that room regularly, glue the tomes together or drill a hole through the stack, inserting a wooden rod to ward off disasters. And although their slackness demands extra glue or rod fortification, magazine collections work here, too.
  • Linen napkins have fallen out of favor as an everyday table companion, so Parson converted hers to window toppers. She folded four cloth napkins into triangles, with the flat side at the bottom and the pointed side at the top. A button at the top allowed her to fold up the piece and button it closed over an ordinary white curtain. For the final touch she stuffed that white curtain into the pockets for filling, and hung tassels on the ends.
  • The woman who inherited her grandmother's amateur oil paintings of floral arrangements wanted to honor her ancestor's love for art if not her talent. At Nixon's direction, they hung the framed pictures around the sun porch, adding artificial and real versions of the featured flowers to tabletops and corners. When complete, the effect suggests whimsical rather than pitiful.
  • Sports equipment offers a range of possibilities. Ask the family who used Trivial Pursuit cards to form a border around their game room walls. In fact, any board game may be glued to wood and lacquered to create an end table. Golf clubs lying on hooks, with the heads facing out become curtain rods. The same thing goes for hockey sticks and baseball bats.
  • Who needs sconces beside your vanity mirror when you have antique wooden tennis racquets? Parson eagerly mounted them to the wall in their original covers, complete with buttons.

"People are missing out when they keep that stuff in the basement and the garage - believe me, because it's now decorating my home!" Parson assures.

Take the Next Step

  • Looking for simple, practical, hands-on home decorating help? If so, then Love Your Home is the perfect ebook for you!

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