Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori: Decorating with family heirlooms

Submitted Photo 
An ironstone mixing bowl in a foyer atop a re-purposed chest
Submitted Photo An ironstone mixing bowl in a foyer atop a re-purposed chest

There is an overwhelming abundance of home makeover TV shows and online blogs about redecorating, redesigning and reconsidering the objects with which we live. Antiques and family heirlooms are front and center when it comes to innovative design. Here are some tips from my experience as a museum director and expert antiques appraiser that might prove fun and interesting.

Arrange collections.

Architect Mies van der Rohe was onto something when he said, “Less is More.” Even large collections can look organized if they are arranged well. Put antique collections together by size, material, color or texture. This method shows both a collection’s similarities and differences. Organization of a collection shows that you have given some thought into your collection and into its arrangement.

The front is foremost.

When you enter any room in your home, there is one wall that is right in front of you or one wall that you focus on the most. This wall is the starting point for any design concept and in museums it is called the confrontation wall, aptly named since it is the first wall that you confront. This wall shouts out for something important, big, colorful, bright or sexy. This is a statement wall. Put your best object right there with pride.

Go family friendly.

If you have an object that has been handed down in the family over the years, consider designing a room around it. If you have your grandmother’s Regina music box dating back to the early 1900s, feature it proudly where everyone can admire it. Is that antique parlor chair from the Victorian period or cut glass punch bowl looking for a new space to show its stuff? Take it out of the living room where it may get lost in the array of other furnishings and make it the featured antique object in a guest room, powder room or foyer entryway.


Feature a single antique object with family significance like grandma’s 19th century ironstone mixing bowl in a prominent area of your home. Use objects to let your family history shine. Talk about the origin of these special old pieces and let your history speak through heirloom objects throughout your home. For instance, I have my father’s war medals proudly displayed in my home library along with World War II literature and military scrapbooks.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on the hit TV show, Auction Kings on Discovery channel and Fox Business Network’s Strange Inheritance. Visit or call 888-431-1010.