My recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama came via an invitation from my dear friend, Margot Shaw, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the must-read Flower magazine. Ten years ago, in her great wisdom, she initiated the “Tastebuds” event for the “Antiques at the Garden” weekend— where noted decorating, entertaining, and lifestyle experts share inspirational stories and tips to help young enthusiasts define and express their personal style.
Margot’s impetus for this educational opportunity was in response to the wider conversation going on in many families across our country — quite simply, some in the next generations coming along do not want antiques, they don’t understand “brown furniture,” and they can’t see themselves using silver flatware and grandmother’s fine china.
It was my charge, and pleasure, to share personal examples of why these heirlooms are so meaningful to me, to provide a perspective for incorporating family inheritances into one’s lifestyle. Not thinking of them as “things” but understanding first that they represent one’s personal “story” — the family’s history, the memories, the experiences are part of who we are and what we have become. Anticipating that my readers may be familiar with this crossroads we’ve approached, I decided to continue our conversation in a post.
The morning started with a comment my gracious mother had made as we were building our house twenty-years ago. Asking me if there was anything in her home that we would like, she wisely observed “I’d rather see you enjoying them while I’m alive; I won’t have that pleasure once I’m gone.” Bringing her spirit to each room gives me another reason to think of her as I walk through my house, making her a part of my every day. In the kitchen, her eighteenth century armoire was my inspiration for the old-world design of this heart of the house.
While the gilded mirror over the salon mantle helps carry through our intent for our home to look as though it had been built almost two hundred years ago, as our neighbors were.
Parterre was also the recipient of a thoughtful gesture by Newport friends that gives new meaning to recycling. Honduran mahogany paneling (in storage for thirty-seven years) from their former family home now decorates our library, the room we use most often, and which we respectfully refer to as the “Powell Memorial Library” in their honor. We now have reason daily to think of a special couple as well as their distinguished history in our state. Aaah, the stories this paneling could tell…
And when I open my china closet door, I see wedding and trousseau gifts. With few exceptions, I can remember exactly who gave them to us (the parents of high school chums, a business colleague of my father’s, a college friend) and even the emporiums from which they came (many of which no longer exist — i.e. Bonwit Teller and Henri Bendel, I. Magnin, Foster’s in Westwood Village). Memories flood back of “past lives” and “times that were.” And the wisdom that those friends imparted to me.
Let me not forget the decanter and glasses set, a staple in our library bar, that a former beau gave us as a wedding gift.
With the holidays just around the corner, I’m anticipating a double dose of nostalgia. Like hand-me-down recipes, family heirlooms and entertaining essentials that were such a part of those past golden holidays are now their own set of treasures. I love to think of my thirty+year old niece, now living in Auckland, NZ, who recreates her grandmother’s December 26th curry buffet dinner party each year. Some guests will be sitting in antique chairs from grandmother’s home in Atlanta, with her soft monogrammed damask napkins on their lap…anticipating the next curry party that is now an annual event!
Thank you for joining me. I hope that these rememberances might reveal new insights for you and your family…or at the least be a part of an ongoing conversation. The past truly does inform our present. Yes, there are many ways to “express personal style,” but if only for the memories and stories associated with them, heirlooms deserve serious consideration. As we are reminded by the framed pictures placed around our homes, any opportunity for reflection…of family, friends, dear ones that have passed, places we’ve been…adds a beautiful note to any day.