Heirlooms: Blessings or Burdens?

My Grandma Fanny and Grandpa Joe bought this piece sometime in the late 1920s in the Bronx. It was passed along to my mother, who has never been fond of it, or the matching dresser that came with it. When my parents sold our family home, I took possession of the two pieces. I loved the formality of them, along with the connection they offered to relatives that I never really knew.

To me, these pieces are dignified and representative of a more elegant time in home appointments, when there was no such thing as Ikea or the concept of “disposable” furniture. I have moved these solid mahogany, enormously heavy pieces 6 times since then, including into and out of a fourth-floor walk up and around many impossibly tight corners.

At each of the first 5 locations, and in my Glen Ridge home for the past 20 years, they have brought me a certain familiar comfort. These things were my family. Until now…

Suddenly, all those years of my antique-savvy mother telling me to sell them have caught up with me. Maybe it’s a symptom of my looming empty nest, but I am determined to streamline my house (and life). I’ve begun to look for an appraiser and ultimately am thinking of selling the vanity to the highest bidder — if I’m lucky. I have actually been told that furniture from this era isn’t in great demand right now, and that the Mid-Centruy Modern is the current rage in antiques. However, it’s not so much about raising funds, but of de-cluttering my house.

Just considering selling my old friend leads me to the question: Does being the keeper of a family heirloom somehow obligate you to hold onto it until it can be successfully handed off to the next generation, or is it OK to get rid of it and move on? Do all those folks on Antique Road Show actually value their pieces enough to hold onto them, with all the stories that go with them, or are they seeing dollar signs and hoping to sell the stuff on the way home.

Have you sold pieces with family value? Are you holding on to something that has significance, but that you’d just as soon get rid of?

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  1. Never. Please hold on to them for your children. They may not want them now but the pieces have a story only in your family. Nothing from Ikea or pottery barn has a story just a price tag and drawers without dove-tailing.

    I bet there are many other way to declutter the house without selling these pieces.

  2. When we bought our first home almost two years ago, my Mother-in-Law offered me the dining set she bought when they bought there first home in the 60s. I was thrilled. It’s mid-century modern style and I love it. And, since it is the table my husband grew up eating at, it means so much to us.

  3. I have a tin top kitchen table & four chairs which my mom received as a wedding present in 1938. She fed a husband & five kids off this sturdy & flexible table (two leaves slide out so the size varies) I can remember sitting under the table on the spanners with my little brother Billy. We would pretend to eat foods from the ice box. In 1980 when I moved to a small apartment in Bloomfield, my mom gave the kitchen set to me.I used it with both leaves in. When I bought my house in Glen Ridge, It looked great in the country kitchen. One leaf is in the other is out. My kitchen has been redone I would love to get a nice IKEA piece. But I can’t throw out the table . My grown son doesn’t want it. Is this kitchen set a “mid-Century ” collectible?? Maybe I should put it on Craigs List & turn my memories into gold (or $50).

  4. We too have inherited lots of antiques, mostly pieces from 1920s. Some I love, some not so much. When my grandparents died we inherited their mahogany dining room set. It was solid, dark and very ornate, came with an enormous breakfront. We just didn’t like it, it didn’t fit our style at all. We looked into selling it but discovered it was worth surprisingly little. Eventually we gave it away, and I don’t regret it.

    However, we have my grandparents carved mahogany sofa and even though it doesn’t fit anywhere in our house (and desperately needs reupholstering), I simply cannot part with it. Too many memories.

  5. These things can be a burden as much as a comfort. This big ugly glass and wood thing sits in our dining room doing nothing but taking up space and inspiring an once-yearly guilty conversation about whether we should get rid of it. I wish someone would come and steal it. (I’ll leave the key under the mat. Make sure to wipe your feet.)

    My mother inherited a bookshelf that had meaning for her because it had been in her house growing up. When she died and we sold the house, I offered it to some surviving family members. Nobody wanted it. After some soul searching we decided to leave the piece with the house. If we had taken it it would have sat in our basement gathering mold.

  6. We looked into selling it but discovered it was worth surprisingly little.

    That’s often the case with these things, their value becomes a kind of myth. We did the same with our glass and wood thing. It’s not really worth selling. In any case, we can’t bring ourselves to throw it out or give it away.

  7. When we moved into our home almost forty years ago my mother-in-law “gifted” us her dining room set because she was down sizing. It was meant to be temporary till we could afford one of our own. Somehow the costs of suburban life took over and there it still sits scratches and all. I kinda like it now.

  8. Remove the pulls, polish them up or have them plated a gunmetal gray, and paint the cabinet glossy white or silver. It will look very contemporary, and since it is not an antique, you’re not reducing its value.

    Ungapatchka to chic.

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