Keeping it in the family

A couple of weeks ago I took my mum to meet up with her brother. He emigrated to Cincinnati 40 years ago, so they don’t see each other often. Anyway, he was in the UK and so a trip was arranged.

A full store cupboard

My uncle’s dresser is now the home to my bottled produce

Amidst all the reminiscing and funny stories, my aunt wondered what had happened to their dinning room furniture, which had been passed to my nan before they went to the US. I can confidently say that they never expected me to say ‘oh, your dresser is in my kitchen and my sister has the gate-legged table’. Discussion revealed that they had bought these items (along with some dining chairs, which I used to have but which did not stand the test of time quite so well) when they were first married – 58 years ago. I’m sure that when it was bought they never envisaged it would have such longevity, nor that it would end up being used in such a practical way – apparently, it original served to display a set of willow-pattern plates (now in the possession of one of my cousins).

Books and jars - it's a working piece of furniture now

Books and jars – it’s a working piece of furniture now

I hadn’t really considered it anything but a nice story, but on reflection it says a lot that we should be surprised that a modern piece of furniture would be passed through the family. We tend to think that antique furniture is the only sort worth preserving, but why not well-made, useful modern pieces? I think that this is the sort of attitude that we need to foster – to see the value in what we have. Certainly, if I was going out to buy a dresser, I wouldn’t choose such dark wood, but equally, I am very fond of what I have. And my fondness is not just because it’s a useful item, it’s because of the family history, the stories, my memories of it in my grandmother’s living room. When I lived in an ancient cottage, this dresser and a pantry represented the only storage space in my kitchen, but now I have a fitted kitchen it’s still useful and used every day.

So, let’s celebrate such ‘heirlooms’ and not consign them to the rubbish. After all, they are tomorrow’s antiques!

Leave a comment


  1. “So, let’s celebrate such ‘heirlooms’ and not consign them to the rubbish. After all, they are tomorrow’s antiques!” Very true – and sometimes in antiques shop such “rubbish” looks full of memories and character amongst all the grand pieces.

  2. In my storage shed there are four chair waiting to be refurbished and I can see from my desk the matching table. They were given to the hubs when he moved into his own place. They were his grandparents’. He also has a desk that was his grandmother’s. We had another, wooden table but it was heavy and we couldn’t afford to bring it with us when we moved.

    This table and chairs is from the seventies. Metal legs, Formica top. I love that table. The legs on both the table and the chairs, however are a bit rusty and need to be repainted. The table top has a burn in it. The upholstery on the chairs needs to be replaced as it’s plastic and ripped. But I love the form of the pieces and they remind me of what I had a as a child. I will get around to restoring them someday because I like them. Will anyone want them after I’m done? I don’t care. I’ll want them, and that’s good enough for me.

  3. My house has mostly ‘heirloom’ furniture. I like that word more than ‘old’ or ‘second hand’ 🙂 Most of my items were sourced at second hand shops or garage sales over many years and I am fond of them all.

  4. I’m not sure why we should be surprised. After all, the antiques themselves were once nice, well made modern furniture! I’m a little sad not to have more antique furniture than the one regency card table that was my mother’s, but in emigrating, I had to leave most of it behind with my siblings; cost, and the difficulty of importing old wooden items into Australia (for fear of bugs, etc) made it too hard. I resign myself by trying to create my own heirlooms for the future!

  5. I think I prefer heirloom items to actual antiques. As you say, they are the ones infused with memories. Like my grandmother’s table. It’s a teak veneer, so it is nothing grand, but it does remind me of her and her kitchen.

  6. Hear Hear, and maybe not only because they’re useful and nice looking but because they’re wood….a finite material that we waste so easily.because tastes change. We should as you suggest also save them for the history within the family even if it’s only in a garage for storage.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  7. I have my parents china cabinet from the late 60’s. Danish modern in design and solid walnut. A sturdy piece that has moved too often and I don’t really care for it’s style. But…it’s a solid piece of useful furniture and I couldn’t replace it for the cost of it and it has memories. I love old furniture that was made of good solid wood. You don’t find much of that anymore. I’ve left behind a lot of good furniture with so many moves but somehow always have a tiny thing to keep a memory alive.

  8. Much or our wooden furniture came from parents and grandparents. It may not be antique, but it has great value to me.

  9. Melanie

     /  November 14, 2015

    Mum and Dad told me the story of the dresser and table and how happy they were that the pieces will still in the family! I remember them well from Percival Drive. I always think that the gate legged table was a great design and space saver.

  10. I like using older furniture in practical, unexpected ways. Except one couch, I can’t think of one piece of furniture that we bought new!


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