Displaying Family Heirlooms

Are your passed-down pieces collecting dust on a shelf or―worse―in the attic? REAL SIMPLE. REAL LIFE. design expert Gia Russo offers these tips for putting treasured keepsakes front and center.

Photo by Andrew Bordwin

HEIRLOOM: Photograph, medal, ribbon, album cover, document, baby gear
HOW TO DISPLAY IT: Shadow boxes such as these from Umbra.
Available in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, a shadow box is an ideal way to give heirlooms their due gravitas. (A padded foam core allows you to suspend items inside using straight pins.) Select one with a neutral background to allow the items to shine. Tip: Shadow boxes look great in small groups, so consider starting with a trio.


HEIRLOOM: Old chair
HOW TO DISPLAY IT: Seating that’s not sturdy enough for regular use anymore―or simply doesn’t go with your other chairs―can make a charming and unexpected bedside table. If there’s a hole in the caning or upholstery, place a tray on the seat to support your alarm clock, lamp, and the like.


HOW TO DISPLAY IT: Hang on a rack like this one that shows off quilts yet keeps them clean. After all, your great-grandmother didn’t work her fingers to the bone to provide your cat a place for afternoon naps.


HEIRLOOM: China and serveware
HOW TO DISPLAY IT: If you’ve inherited a beautiful soup tureen―but aren’t exactly the bisque-making type―repurpose the piece into a vase for large flowers such as hydrangea or peonies. Got a great cake stand? Use it as a platform for votive candles or bottles of perfume on your vanity.