Many of us grew up in homes where a few key furniture items had been lovingly handed down, sometimes for several generations. These were the “treasures” that still looked great and functioned well in spite of their age, and they always had a story attached to them. These were the pieces that gave the home character and distinction.
Selecting new furnishings that hold that same promise – the potential to add beauty, grace, and comfort to a home now, but that will be coveted by the next generation – can be a challenge unless you know some of the hallmarks of heirloom-quality furniture. Three experts take the mystery out of choosing pieces that will stand the test of time.
MARY PETRUZZELLO, SHOWROOM MANAGER, HICKORY CHAIR INTERIOR DESIGN SHOWROOM
The word ‘heirloom’ can have the connotation of dated or antique, which is not the way I like to look at it. I think of heirlooms more in terms of the quality of the item – the attention to detail and the craftsmanship of the artisans who made it. They are timeless. The styling is classic, and the proportions are pleasing.
For wood pieces, look for details like solid wood frames that are corner blocked and drawers that are dovetailed. Is the underside and back finished? Do the edges feel smooth and do the doors and drawers align and close with just one finger? For upholstery, look at the deck under the cushions. Is it finished nicely, and will it support your weight? Lift the corner of the item – heavier is better. You should look for heavy, hardwood construction and lots of good padding with no sharp edges that can be felt through the fabric. The fabric should align correctly across the piece, and the pattern should be matched.
The knowledge and skill of the craftsmen also play a big role. Just like the items themselves, the skills of the craft are often passed down from generations of people who made furniture before them. That’s what makes these pieces special.
TAM GOODWYN, SHOWROOM MANAGER and OWNER, HESTEE BLEU
First, choose something you love. If you stay true to your own design aesthetic, you will enjoy the piece for a long time. Heirlooms do share a few characteristics: They are well-crafted from beautiful materials, they have classic lines that will outlast trends, and they often have a unique quality to them or an interesting origin story.
Some of the ways to determine the quality of an item would be to look at the finish – it should be smooth and clear with no rough edges and (if it is a stained piece) you should be able to see the grain of the wood. It should not look dull or cloudy. The hardware and the materials are also important. Hardware should feel great to the touch should enhance the overall design of the piece.
SHELLEY KNUDSON, PARTNER/OWNER, CHATHAM HOUSE INTERIORS
Consider how a piece is made. Is it made by groups of artisans who craft the items individually, or is it machine-made on an assembly line? The craftsmanship becomes part of the story of the item. There should be great attention to detail, with smooth clear finishes, dovetailed drawers, and classic lines that will look beautiful for years to come. Verellen (represented at Chatham House) is producing some of the same pieces today as they made in their first collection 23 years ago, and they still look relevant.
The traditional methods of furniture-making are still the best. Hard wood furniture frames that are corner blocked and doweled, with 8-way hand-tied upholstery construction will survive years of use by busy families. Frames with plywood and staples are cheaper and faster to make, but they will wear out just as quickly. Our intention is to represent furniture with strong bones that will only need a fabric refresh in the future to be brought back to ‘new’.