Do You Have a Treasured Heirloom?

You know how much I enjoy transforming furniture to make it my own. I can’t say it was something I ever set out to do in life, but you never know how life is going to be influenced by the people you meet, places you go, and if you believe in it – fate.

My enjoyment of taking the old, worn, and inexpensive along with a few great finds and making them new again started when I married Ed.

He is an only child and so were both of his parents.  When we moved into our first house, his parents had just downsized and we were given quite a bit of furniture.  We were young and didn’t have much so we took all of it!

We had enough furniture, antiques, and decorative items to decorate 3 houses.   I am not kidding!  In my 30 years of marriage I have only bought 5 new pieces of furniture from an actual furniture store.

Bed frames of all shapes and sizes, dressers, stools, chairs, sofas, sideboards, oriental rugs, tables, lamps, tchotchkes, cabinets of all sorts, and so much more.   Most of it was handed down even to Ed’s parents from their parents  – so all of it was old. With no siblings around through the generations– all of it was in excellent condition.

We didn’t need many of the pieces and we sold or donated them early in our marriage. Over the years I have edited and made the pieces that we liked and would use – our own. I painted, stripped, and reupholstered them over the years to fit our style.

Fast forward 30 years to today– you could call some of these pieces family heirlooms since I know my daughters are going to want a few of the more unique pieces with which they have grown up.


One example is what they still refer to as the “Art Cabinet”. It got the name when they were little and I would store all their school supplies and project stuff in it.    Now it is mostly empty except for housing the iron and some laundry supplies.  When Ed was a child, his grandparents used it to hold food.  It was battleship grey back then with PA Dutch Hex signs on each panel.

My house is still furnished with 80% of these family hand-me downs and you have seen most of them being transformed for their 2nd or 3rd time here in my blog posts. Items tend to get dated and need transforming more than once if you have been a DIYer for 30 years.

I can’t call any of the pieces priceless heirlooms that would bring in thousands at auction, but a few pieces are extra special to us.


The mantel in the dining room has the best story to go with it. You can read about it in this Christmas post.  There is no fireplace behind it, just a mantel. It used to have a dark wood finish.  I painted it white a few years after we were married.  It is one of my favorite pieces in the house.


I made a fake brick façade on hinged boards to look like a firebox to hide the fact that there is just a wall behind the opening.


The armoire in my studioffice has taken on the most roles – acting not only as my crafts closet, but a pantry in one house, my clothes closet in another, and just a piece of furniture for a guest room in another house we lived in.  It was in storage at my in-laws when Ed and I first saw it. It was painted orange. It comes apart like a jigsaw puzzle, making it easy to pack up and move – plus it is on wheels!


The library files are the most unique. I gave them their second makeover this past year.  They were from Ed’s Dad’s family. I painted them, shined the brass, and gave them some fancy feet.


The piece in my kitchen that I made by merging two non-matching pieces of furniture together has also merged two families – the bottom sideboard was my maternal grandparents, the top cabinet was Ed’s maternal grandparents.

See the white hutch in my dining room in the background?  It is another piece that we were given.  I posted about how I transformed it with paint and book pages when I first started blogging.


This sideboard is actually my newest hand-me-down.  I have only had it for about 5 years.   I gave it a new look and role for my house.  My mom bought it new about 20 years ago when she redid her dining room.  I have the table and chairs to “the set” in my dining room.  Transforming that “set” is my September project.

Every room is filled with these handed-down pieces.  Remember the gift-wrapped dresser?  The turquoise dresser #1 and #2, the stool, little corner cabinet, my worktable, headboards… almost every furniture makeover I have posted about has been done on a handed-down through the family from 3 generations and, if my daughters want it – will make its way into its 4th generation.

It is going to be hard determining which of my daughters get some of the favorite pieces; it may come down to drawing straws.


Do you have a special piece that’s been passed down through your family, one that carries beautiful memories so precious they should never be forgotten?

Please watch this video about family heirlooms and leave a comment sharing the story behind the special piece that’s been cherished and passed down in your family. Looking forward to hearing about your treasured heirlooms!



I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as writing about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.



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  1. valerie smart says:

    I have a brass Arabic ornament which stands on the floor about 4ft high.The brass discolours within days and is very shabby.Id like to paint it and maybe turn it into a lamp. Please ,any ideas as what to use to paint it. I like silver but amunsure what product would be best and work for me.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Valerie – If the entire piece is brass, I would rub it first with a piece of 100 grit sandpaper to rough the surface up a bit. Clean it well and then use silver spray paint. Spray on in light coats. I like PlastiKote, Rustoleum, and Krylon silver spray paint. If you can’t spray paint it, I would look at a brush on metallic paint. Many paint companies make it in silver. I have used Benjamin Moore metallic line and Martha Stewart’s that is sold at Home Depot.

  2. U r amazin and I have some much to learn hellpppppp

  3. What would you do if painting your old family heirlooms or curb-side finds offended family members or disturbed friends? I have a father who hates paint. He has passed down stuff saying “never paint this; that destroys its value.”
    I look at your refinished stuff and I see far more monetary value than the dark-stained items I have now.
    The hand-made pantry which is now a book case; the buffet and hutch which was once rental furniture in US military apartments overseas; and the child’s chair hand made for my brother in 1960 are only a few of the things I would love to re-stain or paint if I felt I had permission. I have fve kids who have been rather rough on furniture. Except for a drop-leaf table which has never been appraised, I can’t imagine that any furniture we own is worth more left in its original state. In fact, the mere thought is laughable!
    Would you keep nonmatching, sentimental stuff or risk offending family and friends? How would you handle that delicate matter?

  4. I love this post, you have created some great pieces at the same time keeping the furniture in the family. I like you seemed to inherit most of my furniture. Most was a very dark brown! and have painted most of it, several pieces to match as they are in the same room, with annie sloane paint, chest of drawers tall corner cupboard thingy bookcases 1920 style! but i would never get rid of them, so much nicer than buying new just for show, thanks for the article

  5. Sheryll & Critters. says:

    I so love the way you redid your ‘gift wrapped dresser’. It has been in my heart and on my mind since I first saw it. Sigh……… I so love that entire room. The 3 d gallery wall of mirrors…. the bed linens, the pillows, EVERYTHING. I have them all on my wish list and to do list and hope for list and get the nerve to do list and the find a dresser to do this list too.

  6. I have a child’s rocking chair that was my dad’s, mine, then my boys’, now just waiting…hehe. I also have two small pieces that my dad made in 1926…he was just 13…but I don’t know what to do. There’s a free standing sewing basket, and a stool. Should I keep them just as is, or refinish them in some way? Your mantle is gorgeous…looks so fresh! All of my furniture is between 10 and 30 years old, and I like that…there are many stories here! ;)

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Donnamae – If the finish on the pieces don’t have sentimental value or are not priceless antiques that could bring you lots of cash if you sold them, then I would try to make them my own. I found I love the pieces even more after painting or refinishing them to suit my taste than I did before. It gives them new life and meaning.

  7. That should read “So happy …” sheesh :)

  8. So love to see you cherish and love your heirlooms! We have two pianos in our family; one was purchased for my mother in 1916 (she played for dances in the ’20s), and it was passed on to my sister. When she downsized, it went to my nephew and his daughter now plays it. My piano was built in 1928 and was my Christmas present in 1966. I have no children, so it will go to my great nephew at some point. I also have a rocking chair that is about 150 years old brought over from Scotland and given to my mother when my parents married in 1929. All of these pieces help us remember with love those who have gone before.

  9. My friend in Virginia has an armoire that comes apart like yours. She told me that they were built like that for traveling as in taking them cross country in a covered wagon. Yours might have been designed for the same purpose.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Patti – It probably is the same as I can’t think of another reason it would come apart the way it does. When my husband was reading my post, he laughed and said, you forgot to mention how hard it is to get back together :)

  10. Too cute…. when I first read para 2 I thought that your husband was your first “make over” project/hand-me-down….. they kinda are, no?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Yes they are :)

  11. Wonderful transformations to keep peices fresh. Love that they have such special places not only in your home, but in your heart! Thanks for sharing :)

  12. I have a couple things that I’ve accumulated in our 30 years together….my grand mothers tea cart, my aunt’s rocking chair and my good friend’s mother’s bed. I love mixing old and new furniture together and really enjoy having them in my home.