Dan and I both suffer from a need to be surrounded by nostalgia. Call us sentimental, but we are fascinated by the lives of our very ordinary ancestors, optimistic immigrants and stalwart pioneers who came to Kansas in search of a better life. You’ll find little tributes to our family members, like old photos or keepsakes, threaded throughout our home. Have you ever considered using your family heirlooms as decorative accents? Here are some ideas I hope will inspire you to add to the aesthetic beauty of your home by using it to honor your heritage.

One of a Kind Artwork

One of the best sources of unique artwork for your home may be sitting right under your nose: your pile of family pictures and papers. I’m crazy about working my family’s past into the art montages on my walls, whether it’s old photos, keepsakes or artwork.

If you’re lucky enough to have some portraits of family members, you’ve got to get them out where people can see them. I am so jealous of my friend Rich, who found a watercolor that was done of his great-great aunt in 1931, shown in the photo above. He freshened up the original portrait with a new mat and frame and placed it front and center on a side table in his living room.  It looks amazing with his eclectic mix of artwork, which ranges from modern to traditional.

In my house, we’ve hung up all kinds of cool old stuff that has been handed down. In our kitchen, you’ll spot an old calendar that was from Dan’s great-grandfather’s general store. The calendar features a photo of Dan’s father as a baby. It’s irreplaceable!

You can turn all sorts of vintage treasures into wall décor. How about old postcards? Pages from an ancestor’s favorite book? Don’t miss the obvious: marvelous old photos of family members, their homes and even their vacations. Rich found and framed a snapshot of his grandparents when they toured Italy. It looks charming nestled in with other accents on a bookcase in his living room.

Perhaps one of our most cherished pieces of art is a poem written by Dan’s grandmother right before she died. Dan discovered the poem year later, and it brought tears to his eyes. As a surprise, I had the poem, written on a yellowed piece of her stationery, framed and hung in our living room. The text of the poem, pictured above, is:

Let me grow lovely growing old

So many fine things do.

Laces and ivory and gold

And silks need not be new

And there is beauty in old trees

And streets a glamor hold.

Why should not I as well as they

Grow lovely, growing old.

Accents that Tell a Story

The beauty of decorating with antiques is that each piece is a unique treasure with a story to tell. But there is nothing to match the joy of decorating with antiques passed down through your own family. Dan and I are lucky enough to have a few household items that belonged to our ancestors. While none of them are of great value, to us, they are priceless. I have worked them into my everyday displays because they not only add beauty to my home, they make me smile every time I walk past them.

One of my favorites is a biscuit jar that was a wedding gift for Dan’s grandmother, who was an early pioneer. This poor woman started her married life in a dugout in Kansas! The delicate biscuit jar, shown in the photo above, was probably one of the prettiest things in her simple home. I keep the jar in my living room, filled with matches for the fireplace.

Another of our favorite pieces is a mustache cup used by Dan’s grandfather. It has the family name written on it, which makes it truly unique. It’s sitting on the secretary in my living room, holding pens and pencils.

An important rule of thumb when decorating with heirlooms is to work a few carefully chosen pieces into your décor so they blend in well with their environment. You don’t want to have so many old items on display that your home resembles an antique store, nor have them staged in an artificial manner, more like a museum than a home. One other word to the wise: Make sure all your precious breakables are well protected. I’m a big believer in putting things out where people can see them, not keeping them locked away. But I also don’t have a home filled with toddlers investigating their environment. If I did, I’d make sure the breakable treasures were carefully placed in a protected spot.

Furniture That’s Part of the Family

If you are lucky enough to have inherited furniture from family members, by all means, use it in your home. Rich received the cabinet in the photo above from his family. And while his style is more contemporary, this very traditional piece mixes in well with his other furnishings, adding a bit of contrast. Even if you’re not a fan of antiques, or the style of the piece you’ve inherited is not what you’d usually pick, chances are, it will look sensational worked in with your other furnishings. I like to mix all sorts of styles of furniture together, pulling together different colors, textures and shapes. Chances are, a treasured family piece would be a great addition to your space.

Another option is to recover or refinish an inherited piece so it works more seamlessly with your existing décor. Dan’s mother passed down a pair of unique chairs that had such beautiful lines that I had them reupholstered. Now they blend in so well with the other furnishings in my living room, I’ve given them the star spot in front of the fireplace. Sometimes it’s worth the financial investment to repair or reupholster old furniture in order to have a few truly unique pieces that are steeped in tradition.

Next Week … I am certifiably nuts about dishes. I not only like to eat off them, I like to decorate with them. Find out how next week.

P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!

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26 Responses to “Celebrate Your Heritage Through Your Home Decor”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Great ideas as always. I love old things and antiques too. A friend of mine framed old letters her mother had kept in her bathroom from her father. I love that idea. They look lovely.
    It’s wonderful to see old and new pieces together. It’s truly what makes a house a unique home and what makes it your own.
    Thank you Mary Carol.

  2. Janet Hall Says:

    I love Dan’s grandmother’s poem. Absolutely beautiful, sweet, and sentimental.

  3. patti g Says:

    I think heritage items add depth to the lovely layers and textures of decorating I take away from how you stage your home for life.
    Thank you – as always – my kindred spirit friend.

    Patti Gencarelli

  4. Barbara & Donald Wilson Says:

    Mary Carol,
    Over the years, you have brought so much beauty and joy into our lives, our home, and family. We, too, like using family pictures and old family furniture pieces and textiles. What a great blog this blog! (But, then we both enjoy all of your great decorating ideas and suggestions…plus, many favored pieces have come from your great stores.) Thanks for loving and sharing what you do! Does Dan know how lucky he is? B&D

    P.S. Dan’s grandmother’s poem says it all!

  5. Mildred Hoppe Says:

    How much are the white urns in the first picture?

  6. Janelle Says:

    Absolutely beautiful poem! And I love the idea. An family archive is such a great way to display items. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. NovemberBride Says:

    Sweet sweet poem! This post is right up my alley. I adore old stuff and use it all over my house. Most of it originates from my husbands family and the rest from antique stores all over! Thanks for sharing!

  8. pat pennington Says:

    Hi to all you wonderful women, Loved the poem. I have a picture that my son Jim did in chalk of my parent’s wedding picture and found a paint by number picture that I patiently filled in each color under the back steps on a picnic talble in l953 when I was 8 years old. I found it in a suitcase of my moms when we were cleaning I was so excited to see this, brought back a wonderful memory . Framed both pieces and now being 66 and passing these daily makes me smile.

  9. Joan Says:

    Dan’s grandmothers poem is lovely. . .and a real treasure.
    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas and inspiration!

  10. Mary Beth Says:

    I loved your blog today, and you inspired me to do some different, creative things from the precious items I have from my family. I’ve been inspired by you, your shops and your blog for several years now… And I absolutely loved the poem. I would love to put that on my Facebook page and on my future blog, but I definitely want to attribute it to Dan’s grandmother. Do you give out names? Or how would I do that? Thank you!

  11. Mary Syron Says:

    My guess is that poem was written by a very sweet lady! I’m sure she was a gem. My grandparents on both sides were immigrants from Italy and arrived in the US via Ellis Island. Their lives were difficult in this new land, and I treasure any and all reminders of them. I have pictures of them and my parents, especially my Mother’s high school graduation picture and one of my Dad in his Army uniform. He served in the 88th Infantry in the World War II. Just a word of advice to all your readers… if you can, get names, and dates on the backs of those picture because our memories will fade just like those photos. I love your blog and look forward to it every week. God bless!

  12. Annettia Says:

    I loved the poem and would like to post it in my own home, but would like to credit Dan’s grandmother as the author. Would you mind sharing her name?

  13. Kathy Says:

    Your family furnishings and treasures are lovely, and each one of us has pieces like them! Talk with older family members about items they have which they’d like YOU to keep! Try to get a story about the piece, if only a sentence. Look through parents’and grandparents’ possessions piece-by-piece when the time comes to transfer them to the next generations. Our families were not wealthy, but somehow had some amazing treasures. We are so fortunate to have inheirited those pieces now to display in our home…..Thank you, Mary Carol for lovely pictures, and the poem you included!

  14. Kathy Says:

    Your family furnishings and treasures are lovely, and each one of us has pieces like them! Talk with older family members about items they have which they’d like YOU to keep! Try to get a story about the piece, if only a sentence. Look through parents’ and grandparents’ possessions piece-by-piece when the time comes to transfer them to the next generations. Our families were not wealthy, but somehow had some amazing treasures. We are so fortunate to have inheirited those pieces now to display in our home…..Thank you, Mary Carol for lovely pictures, and the poem you included!

  15. Kathy Says:

    Thank you

  16. Mary Carol Says:

    Unfortunately Mildred—Those urns belonged to a special friend of mine. We do have lots of urns in the stores at the moment—some similar in design.

  17. Mary Carol Says:

    Mary Beth—Thank you for your sweet remarks and we would be honored…..Dan’s grandmother’s name was, Eunice Garrity, and a absolute dear to all who knew her.

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Thank you for the request Annettia–how sweet. Dan’s grandmother’s name was, ‘Eunice Garrity’—-she was an amazing women.

  19. Billie Aye Says:

    Mary Carol,

    I just loved the poem by Eunice Garrity…what a treasure you have! I know many of us would love a framed print of that, in her handwriting. Is this something you would consider doing? If you do, please notify me.


  20. Linda Kay Says:

    Thank you for the great ideas. It inspires me to take an old letter my greatgrandfather wrote to my grandmother asking how the new baby (her first) was doing and praying blessings on their “little family”, and frame it and hang it where I can see it often. Those little family treasures are so precious.

  21. J Says:

    Great ideas! However, the poem was written by Karle Wilson Baker, published prior to 1920. We actually sang a version of it for competition when I was in high school – lovely words.

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    Thank-you J—-With your great information I went to the internet and found the poem by Karle Wilson Baker, just as you said. Actually, there is a collection of her poems and they are all wonderful. Dan’s grandmother, obviously, loved the poem and she had copied it in her own hand writing on her personal stationery, leaving us with the misimpression that she was the author. Thank you for providing this information and correcting our misconception.

  23. Billie Aye Says:

    Well, now it’s finding the other poems and I imagine I’ll love them just as much! There is such lovely sentiment expressed in it.


  24. Carol Says:

    Great ideas you’ve given us! I love a few old things in each room, I think it really personalizes a home.
    Carol in GA

  25. HSG Says:

    Great post, love the idea of using family heirlooms as decorative accents – creates additional charm and authenticity

  26. Laurie Says:

    Your posts are the highlight of my week. A year ago I was 20 miles from the store. Now I am 820 miles from the store (Atchison). I miss my regular visits to the store with my best friend almost as much as I miss my best friend. Your posts make me feel a little less homesick. Thank you.

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