Posted by Ancestry Team on October 25, 2016 in Family History Month, Guest Bloggers


Grandma’s bookcase, your great-grandfather’s clock, your aunt’s vanity—it’s easy to see how family heirlooms can stack up in the attic fast. Clean out the attic by incorporating your family treasures into your home decor. They not only tell your story and history, but they can also compliment your savvy style. From creating a vintage gallery wall to giving an antique heirloom a fresh coat of paint, here are some easy, attainable ways to display your family treasures and incorporate them into your existing spaces.

Find Balance

It’s easy to think that heirloom pieces will make your home feel like an old, stuffy museum, but by creating balance between old and new, you can make your old pieces feel at home by complementing them with contemporary furnishings, artwork and accessories. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a stylish potted plant or an abstract painting to warm up a darker, elaborate piece. Other times, putting the piece next to a modern rug is all you need to make it feel less like Grandma’s old bookcase and more like a unique vintage find.

Update It

One of the easiest ways to incorporate heirloom furniture is to give it a new life. Older furniture is revered for being impeccably made, so take advantage of having a sturdy piece with added character by giving it a facelift. Update your piece with a bold new paint color or a more modern stain. Chairs can be reupholstered with a chic neutral or a funky pattern to bring them from drab to glam. Giving your piece a modern makeover will not only make it much easy to incorporate into your existing decor, but it will also help you preserve your family history and save the piece from ending up in a landfill.

Incorporate Art

Vintage sketches, landscapes and original paintings can look surprisingly modern when paired together as a gallery wall in contemporary living spaces. Mix up the frames with new and old, and feel free to play with gilded, wood and sleek modern finishes. A few framed family photos are easy additions to an open bookcase and shelving. Finish off the look by adding a few smaller antiques next to a selection of photos for a personal touch.

Give It a New Life

Sometimes heirlooms just don’t cut it with your decor or needs. But don’t write them off just yet—consider giving them a new life as something else. Old rugs are great examples. Instead of sitting in the basement collecting dust, rugs can be great for reupholstering an ottoman or bench. Not only will they show off a wonderfully inviting patina, they’ll be a fantastic boho-chic addition to a living room or bedroom. Any typewriters, record players or old-timey speakers in the attic? Why get rid of them when they can be an industrial decorative accent or a unique coffee table base!

Get Creative with Dinnerware

Silver and china sets are classic heirlooms from the bygone era of formal dining and extravagant dinners. While most of us don’t have much use for elaborate sets, they’re the perfect opportunity to get creative. Cluster a few pieces on a bookcase for a decorative accent or turn pitchers into flower vases. Antique silver trays are stunningly beautiful and great for grouping collections together in a variety of settings. You can use a tray to accent a bar cart, top off a pouf to create a casual side table or house varying jars of lotions and potions on top of a vanity for a glamorous bathroom addition.

How do you like to work family heirlooms into your home? We’d love to hear about your favorite pieces.

Kerrie Kelly headshot

Using an attic cleanup to add heritage to your home’s interior design is what you’d expect to hear from award-winning interior designer Kerrie Kelly. Kerrie pens her advice online for The Home Depot. If you have plans to display your family heirlooms and are researching shelving options, you can find a wide selection of bookshelves and other shelving at Home Depot online.


  1. Bonnie

    We’re converting an heirloom bed into a bench – bed from my husband’s great grandparents – can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  2. Merilee

    My friend gathers her small memorabilia items together to make shadow boxes that represent certain ancestors in her family, then takes them to a professional framer who arranges them on a fabric back in a custom made one to two inch deep shadow box with protective glass and frame on front. Wish I had a photo to show you… they are truly beautiful.
    I took three photos of my dad (96) and his siblings with their father camping in the 1930’s and had a professional framer set them horizontally side-by-side and framed in a rich burgundy matting and black frame. My dad has that item hanging prominently in his study so he can look at it everyday and remember his childhood. PRICELESS!

  3. Berta Douglas

    In my modern kitchen, I have an old Singer (treadle) sewing machine, in front of my kitchen window, with an antique lamp displayed on top. The sewing machine was my mother’s and her aunt’s, before it came to me. My sisters and I made our clothes using it when we were growing up. My grandchildren have even sewed using it! Our friends have often complimented about keeping it on display.

  4. Janice

    I don’t think family heirlooms should be stashed away in a basement or attic. Many items I have are on display or used for family gatherings – and one table that belonged to my grandparents is one that we use in our kitchen every day. I would just caution that before one refinishes or paints an old piece of furniture, make sure to check if it is a particularly valuable piece. If it is, you might devalue it by changing it.

  5. Reletha Moch

    I have an old sewing machine of my grandmother Also I used it to make clothes when I learn to sew

  6. Steve Colburn

    NO, that is,so wrong. Don’t modify them, repaint them, refinish them. They are antiques, etc joy them just as they are. We have a grandfather click and a stereo cabinet made by Rod’s Dad, and two chairs and,a footstool made by his Grandad, and two paintings made by his Great Uncle, and they all blend well into our Florida decor. Don’t change the past to conform to your paltry present. Accept your Ancestors heirlooms just as they made them!

  7. Candice

    I inherited several antiques from my grandparents that I have incorporated into my home. After living with these antiques for awhile I realized I wanted to update them and had them painted. I love how they turned out! I also artwork that is part of my gallery wall. These antiques mean so much to me and remind me of my grandparents every day.

  8. Kathy

    I found a lovely old vase in storage that had belonged to my grandmother. I researched the name on the bottom, and found it to be Hull pottery, made in the 1940’s. I liked the vase so much that I’ve collected several more pieces in this line that I’ve found at antique stores, and display them with my grandmother’s vase.

  9. Wendy

    I inherited my grandfather’s hand hewn oxen yoke, which is large. I mounted it high over a table holding his antique clock and arranged several old framed photos of those ancestors under the yoke in my entryway.

  10. Gemstone

    I am grateful to have several family antiques, all well-loved and used in some way. There’s my G-G-G Uncles’s roll top desk and chair, my G-Grandmother’s camel back trunk, and another G-Grandmother’s semi-porcelain dishes. I have a collection of family eye glasses and straight-edge razors that still need to go into a shadow box.

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