In the study of this Manhattan townhouse, the large landscape painting and desk are both family heirlooms
One of the things that makes a home special is the presence of sentimental treasures. Those items, from a child’s fourth grade painting to your grandmother’s china, make us feel connected to people and experiences long gone. But they can also keep us trapped in a kind of sentimental bondage. As with most things in life, the key is balance.
A picture by daughter Meghan is displayed near an African mask in the Phoenix home of Senator and Mrs. John McCain
Today we’ll discuss how to use nostalgic items, both inherited and chosen, to evoke happy memories (instead of pangs of guilt over the fact that you and your grandma had really different tastes in decor).
Balance begins with a discerning eye and heart. When you’re selecting items to keep from a loved one who has passed away, it can be tempting to go overboard. These items should be ones that you really love and that will work in your space, or ones that remind you of the loved one in a very specific way. Ideally, they should be both. If you simply can’t get rid of the thing, then you need to figure out how to use it. If you’re just sticking it in storage to work its weird voodoo guilt on the next generation, you might as well not have it at all.
We would never dream of dismissing someone else’s attachment to a piece (or even the history of a piece) simply because it’s a thing. To claim that things have no real meaning or shouldn’t have any meaning seems unrealistic. Our world is full of things. They give us comfort and bring beauty into our lives. They trigger memories and make us feel connected. A wedding ring is just a thing, but we can really love it. It’s a reminder of our love for a husband or wife. If you lost the ring, you might be sad, but does the ring define your marriage? No.
If a thing makes you happy and brings joy into your life, that’s awesome. If you want to display it in its original glory, great. If you want to refurbish the heck out of it, that’s great, too! The point is to honor the people and things you love in your own way.
Evelyn and Leonard Lauder gently update these circa 1920 garden seats with a Brunschwig & Fils fabric
Things, by their very nature, are fleeting. They get lost, burn in fires or break. Don’t keep something you hate simply because it has monetary value. If the item doesn’t bring you a warm memory or enhance your life in some way, why not free yourself from it? Sometimes the best action you can take for your own well-being is to simply let go of something.
But if the idea of letting go does not suit, make the item your own. Don’t be afraid to try a daring fabric on a beloved old chair, or to try a fabulous frame on a picture created by a family member. If you decide to keep something, do whatever you can do to make the piece feel as though it belongs in your home. Commit entirely. Chances are, the next owner will make it their own, yet again…