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Household Assets

Refreshing with Antiques, Heirlooms and Collections

Article by Amy Birdsong Golden

Photography by Ross Group Creative

Originally published in River City Lifestyle

Designer Anna Lattimore has a gift for honoring treasured antiques by incorporating heirlooms into a fresh, vibrant style. She recently completed a renovation for a couple who inherited a family heirloom – the husband’s childhood home. It was built in the 1920s and he first moved in during the early 1980s.

How special to reimagine a childhood home. Tell us about the project.

My clients are empty nesters who recently moved from the home where they raised their children to this house. This move was challenging because they were combining furnishings they’d accumulated for decades along with the family heirlooms and art that came with the house – his family history. Furthermore, the house was beautifully decorated, but it was more formal and ornate than they preferred. Our goal was to create a comfortable, inviting home that blends family pieces with new furnishings in the style they love.  

I am picturing a lot of sorting and storytelling. What was your first step?

Plenty of storytelling. And the biggest part of our job is listening. We start with an inventory of the non-negotiables as I call them--and quite often those are the storied pieces my clients treasure and want to include in a refresh. We photograph and measure them and move them around on paper along with the new pieces that fit in their space.

How do you achieve the blend of different eras and styles? The vignette by the bookcases is so striking.

A blend of antiques and modern furniture is always more interesting to the eye, and the contrast between the two enhances our enjoyment of both. The gold table with the French antique chairs is admittedly an unpredictable pairing, but if we had paired the chairs with an antique table, your eye might not see all the details of the chairs. You may not notice the pretty curved legs in a sea of brown antique furniture.

With inherited pieces or existing furniture, how do you decide what is worth rehabbing?

I first ask – was it well made and comfortable to begin with. And then we consider scale. Because if it already sits comfortably but the frame is too shallow, then scale comes into question.

In the family room, the French tub chairs are the right scale with the table base, for example. If those chairs had taller backs or spindlier legs, they wouldn't be as visually pleasing with the table. 

Older pieces can sit several inches lower than today's seat heights of 19". It makes it tricky. When you pull an old club chair next to a brand new sofa, they don’t play well together. We reupholstered their existing sofa and added two new club chairs. We brought new life to his parents' Bergere chair and cane chair with chipper fabric.

The key to blending successfully is a floorplan drawn to scale with measurements of all their furnishings including back and seat heights. 

How do you incorporate collections in your design?

A grouping of items makes a larger impact than spreading it in dribs and drabs all over the house. I've heard that's the difference between collections and clutter!  My clients' mint julep cups look so striking in their armoire that we re-purposed as a bar, and they can easily reach them and use them more often. Similarly, their antique books are grouped in the bookcases flanking the fireplace. We interspersed family photos and mementos among them, but the bookcases largely house books.

What is your favorite inherited piece that clients can use in a new way?

Armoires are a favorite heirloom to repurpose if the wall space permits. They make terrific bars, pantries, coat closets and linen closets. In this house, the pine armoire houses his hunting gear, and the armoire in their family room that once held a tv, is now a bar. I have an armoire in my own office that houses fabric samples.

Do you have to be period appropriate when incorporating vintage or antique items?

A nod to the home's architectural style and era will always help the furnishings look more suitable for their surroundings, but too many period-appropriate antiques begin to look like a stage set or museum.

Is there a place for inherited pieces that aren’t too precious or fine?

We love to paint vintage pieces that don't have a beautiful patina or pedigree worth preserving. In the guest bedroom, the navy faux bamboo mirror and charming white bedside table were both given a decorative paint finish. We could have bought new, matching bedside tables, but the mismatched tables give the room more charm and personality.

Wallpaper can be an investment. How did it impact this project?

Wallpaper is one my favorite tools to introduce color, pattern and energy into a space. In this project, we used two timeless papers from Brunschwig & Fils. In the small powder room, there weren’t a lot of places to inject the happy, bright colors they love. The space had been carved out of an under-stair space, and it was previously painted dark brown. They didn’t want to embark on a full renovation that might gain more space or natural light, so wallpaper was a natural solution to add more color and personality.  

My client has always wanted to wallpaper a kitchen and while this kitchen would’ve been lovely without it, the paper adds polish and personality. Plus, it was in the launching pad for the color scheme of neutrals, brown and soft corals. This also highlighted a McCarty's pottery collection found in her kitchen.

For our readers, what should they look for in vintage or antiques? Any advice on investing in household assets?

Our favorite vintage pieces to rehab are dining room chairs. We love to source Baker dining room chairs, ideally from the 50s or 60s. They are solid wood, and with some paint and upholstery, they sit so pretty with an antique dining room table.

For younger clients just starting to collect or inherit, we tell them to focus on any antiques or vintage pieces! A gorgeous chest of drawers can be great storage or sit under a TV. A secretary can ground an entry space or make the most of a corner. A bench can act as a nice coffee table or placed at the end of a bed. Always get the pair of occasional chairs.

Any renovation or refresh that fosters a better connection to yourself and to the important people in your life is a good investment. 

What is your wallpaper wisdom for clients, generally?

1. If you love the pattern on the sample, you will love it even more on your walls. That’s been my experience again and again.

2. I often hear, "What if I grow tired of it?" In my experience, my clients love their wallpaper for years to come. Plus, today’s non-woven papers are much easier to remove than papers of the past, and certainly easier to replace than cabinets, countertops and tile.

3. You can hang art on wallpaper. While you might not want an entire gallery wall on a busy paper, we are fans of well-chosen pieces hung on wallpaper. 

  • Generally, kitchens and bathrooms have a lot of hard surfaces and blocks of colors with little opportunity for softness and pattern that wallpaper can achieve.