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.

By Real Simple
Updated January 20, 2009
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.