You've just designed your home in that clean, crisp Pottery Barn look when Grandma leaves you her ornate Victorian roll-top desk and an...

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You’ve just designed your home in that clean, crisp Pottery Barn look when Grandma leaves you her ornate Victorian roll-top desk and an old seaman’s trunk crammed with great-grandmother’s quilts. What’s a 21st-century, high-tech homeowner or renter to do?

Store them, or use them?


Use those heirloom quilts in the winter and bright tablecloths from the 1930s-’50s for patio dining. Take out large bowls and platters for the holidays. The rest of the year, store them or give them to family members.

When it comes to inherited knickknacks and furniture, determine how much they mean to you and whether you really want them.

Deciding what to keep was an important question for designer Connie Long when she downsized and ended up renting a storage unit to keep some large collections.

“We are paying $120 a month for the storage. Is what we have in there worth $120 a month? That’s something to consider,” she says. “You have to decide what you want to keep and why are you hanging on to this. It’s only things.”

That’s why she encourages her clients to think about collecting memories instead.

“I tell my clients that when they take a trip, buy something that they like for the house, and use that for your memory. I like containers, and I’ll put a concert ticket in one of them, and when I’m dusting, I’ll lift the lid and see the ticket and there’s a memory. These pieces are the ones I’m going to keep, and I’ll let the others go.”

The word in decorating is eclectic. So no matter what you inherit, there is no reason it won’t look good someplace in your home, say designers.

“You can mix and match, as long as you do it properly,” says interior designer Leslie Newpher Tachek. “In fact, you should mix the old and the new whether you have inherited pieces or not.”

Figuring out what to do with those drawers full of doilies and monogrammed handkerchiefs or the mahogany bedroom suite in the garage can be daunting. So here are some ways you can blend those heirloom pieces with your own decor to create a style that works for you:

Be realistic. Sometimes the importance of a piece depends on whether it comes from your side of the family or from your spouse’s side. Communicate and compromise.

If it’s not an antique , which you should never paint or change, then anything goes.

“If a piece has sentimental value and you want to keep it, then you can do several things to it to update it. You can paint it, you can change the finish and you can change the hardware. If it’s an upholstery piece, you can recover it or have the arms changed on it,” says designer Connie Long.

Turn those hand-me-down doilies into pillows, says Long, who even turned old tablecloths into valances and window treatments.

When it comes to furniture, think outside the box. You don’t have to keep bedroom furniture in the bedroom.

“Rethink the use of those pieces. A dresser could be used as a buffet in a dining room. An end table in a bedroom could be an end table in a living room near a chair. Split them up and use them in different ways than they were intended to be used,” Long says.