You Inherited Heirlooms, Great! Now, what?

The Incident of the Heirloom Plates

“OH MY GOD NO!” I shouted out in anguish, which brought Mr. B running into the room., “Honey!” he said, “what happened?” I was sobbing hard as I stared down at broken pieces of china on the wooden floor.  “I….the plates!” I cried out – really, I could barely get the words out!  3 out of 4 antique plates were now in tiny pieces and china dust. I sobbed not only because I loved these plates, but also because I was the caretaker of these for another generation, and they tied me to my paternal grandparents.

I had hung these in a vertical line on our dining room wall, a few precious minutes before. I walked away thinking they were finally (!) up after our latest move, as I went looking for the very long tassel that usually hung around the plates.  Then I heard a loud crash. The one plate left was still on the wall . The only one that was chipped. *sigh*.

This guy is selling his last plate on Etsy, marked down by $100.00 from $1450.00 Mine has no mark on the white part of the plate.

This guy is selling his last plate on Etsy, marked down by $100.00 from $1450.00 Mine has no mark on the white part of the plate.

I found a two of these plates, this one on Etsy . I might buy them, but they are not attached to my family. Do I really need to replicate them? Jury is still out, which is why I’ve not yet purchased them.

My Family Story:

I never met my father’s parents. My grandfather was a Marine Corps 2-star General. In the late 1930’s, within three months’ time, his son, daughter and wife had succumbed to Scarlet fever while they were stationed in Peking, China. He arrived back in DC with his family in coffins to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Two years later he was introduced to my much younger grandmother, which was common in those days.

At the age of 45 my grandfather was gifted with another son, my dad.  Several years after that, my grandmother Alice died of leukemia. My dad was then 16 years old.

So how did I know about my paternal grandparents? Well, Alice had two sisters, and one of them, my great Aunt Josephine was my dad’s advocate. She carried the family history and was able to get most of all the family items back from my grandmother’s second husband. Pretty much all of them are from what my grandfather and grandmother purchased while based out of Hong Kong, China. And boy, did they have great taste, and knew what antiques to purchase! Most of these items are so old they cannot be identified easily. So you can see how devastating it was when these plates broke – they were more than just things, they were pieces of family lore!

Grandmother Alice, Christening the US Navy Destroyer USS Rupertus in 1945.  Always so elegant! She had my light blue eyes – a family dominant trait, and my love of Lipstick!

Grandmother Alice, Christening the US Navy Destroyer USS Rupertus in 1945.  Always so elegant! She had my light blue eyes – a family dominant trait, and my love of Lipstick!

Now, What about your family heirlooms?

– Some of these still might mean something to you.  Some of the items might mean something to you. (Like those plates I had – such pretty pieces, and I liked the koi fish and the colors.) These you should hang on to – these pieces add warmth and special memories to your spaces. This is why I like to use them so much. The perfect piece can make quite an impact in your decor. You can keep them, or make something new out of them so they work better with your taste. Personally, I love taking an antique dresser and pairing it with a piece of modern art. The tension created between the 2 pieces makes for quite the visual impact – especially at the end of a hallway or in just the right spot in right room.

– What if it’s broken? Well, that’s up to you. Furniture can be restored if you use the right craftsman. I have a set of three Chinese Wise Men, they have ebony bases with intricately carved animals. They’ve been through many moves over three generations, so some of the animals have parts broken off. One of the wise men broke in half when a cleaner moved it and it fell over. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want any broken pieces anymore. The value is gone, and I get sick inside when I see the crack that was glued to keep the two broken halves together. So that piece will go, and I’ll keep the other two. If it’s beyond repair and it makes you feel bad? Don’t keep it out of guilt.

What should I keep? Okay here, I have to get tough with you. Don’t keep ALL of it! You will be overwhelmed & nothing will be in your house that is about YOU and your taste. The real dealio is that most people no longer like dark brown furniture. If you’ve inherited a piece or two, there might be spectacular wood grain underneath that stain. I like to remove that stain, and French Polish pieces that won’t have any water near them. If these pieces are not great quality wood, they can be painted any color you can imagine and look like something totally different. This falls under the recycle/reuse category, which I promote to my client who have antiques. Your ancestor will be so happy you love and care so well for their items! Click To Tweet

A beautifully grained antique chest with interiors by Thomas O’Brien as seen in Traditional Home Magazine.

A beautifully grained antique chest with interiors by Thomas O’Brien as seen in Traditional Home Magazine.

Keep The heirlooms that mean the most to you!

If you recently inherited an heirloom, or have had some for awhile but they are not making you skip with joy, I can help you figure out what you can do with them to work better with your decor.

Heather Bates