A Family Heirloom Repurposed for Daily Use

posted by Andrea | 07/19/2013

A few months after Nora was born, I was given the highchair my great-grandma used as a baby. One of my mom’s cousins had been using it as a decoration for years and was ready to get rid of it… so she gave it to me.

At the time, I thought I could use it for Nora’s highchair, but when I actually saw the chair, I decided that I didn’t want to be cleaning a wooden tray every time it got messy with food. However, I had a few ideas up my sleeve for what I thought I could do with the chair, so I hung onto it.

I gave myself an 18 month deadline (because you know how much I like working with deadlines!) to do something with the chair; otherwise I would donate it to another family member. So a couple weeks ago, I brought the chair up from the basement and decided it was time to transform it into a useable, functional piece of furniture for our home.

I knew I didn’t want to use the tray as it was really rickety and pretty gross… so I removed that right away (I did save it though in case I eventually want to use it).

Nora had to “try it out for size”… and then I sanded some of the really rough spots with 100 grit sand paper. It wasn’t really as “rough” as it was “greasy” and super dirty though. So since I’m not a huge fan of sanding, I used denatured alcohol (my favorite pre-painting tool) to thoroughly scrub down the entire chair.

You could almost see the years of grease, gunk, and grime melt away as I scrubbed.

progress

I already knew exactly what color I wanted to paint the chair — my most favorite “Awning Red”. That’s the same color as the red hutch in the corner of our kitchen and I thought an Awning Red chair would be the perfect opportunity for another punch of red in my white kitchen.

Don’t you love the hutch? $60 on Craigslist and it was in total shambles when I purchased it – that’s a story for another day though.

Anyway, after pulling out my 1/2 full can of Awning Red paint, I decided that I really did not want to use a paint brush to meticulously brush in between and around all the spindles and the legs.

I figured there had to be a spray paint that was pretty close to my beloved Awning Red… and I was right. Rust-oleum has a Heritage collection of spray paint and their Heritage Red is nearly an identical match to Behr’s Awning Red.

So with two quick coats of spray paint, my great-grandma’s high chair was literally transformed from gross to gorgeous in less than 2 hours.

after

And yes, Nora loves it! 

Since I posted a few pictures of the chair on Facebook the day I did the painting, I’ve gotten several emails and questions already — many from people who thought it would have been better to “preserve” the chair by re-staining it, leaving the tray attached, and using it as a decorative piece instead of letting Nora use (and abuse) it.

I totally get that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I agree that the chair will most likely get scratched and scuffed by succumbing to every-day toddler use… BUT I’m 100% OK with that.

I personally feel that if a piece of furniture is going to take up space in our home, we have to love it AND use it — and we will definitely be loving and using this super cute red chair for years to come.

I don’t buy into the idea that we need to “preserve” antiques and family heirlooms, because in my experience, “preserve” means “let it sit in the basement” or “store it in a closet where no one can see, use, or enjoy it”.

That’s not really my style. 

I don’t need this chair to remember my great-grandma. I actually never even met her… but I’m told that my mom and several of her siblings and cousins also used this chair.

However, even though I don’t even know my great-grandma, I bet I’ll think of her more using this chair every day than keeping it perfectly preserved in the basement, in a closet, or stuffed in the corner of our living room as a decoration. Plus, won’t it be fun to tell our kids that they’re using great-GREAT-grandma’s high chair!

If you’re holding onto old family heirlooms, please don’t be afraid to “alter” them in any way so you can actually use them. And honestly, if you’re not going to use them, don’t feel bad if you’d rather just get rid of them (if you need some motivation, here are a few posts I’ve written about emotional clutter!)

While I’m not extremely sentimental, I do get tons of satisfaction from repurposing old stuff into new, usable pieces — even more so when those old things have family history or a neat story!

before and after

What do you think – worth my 2 hours of elbow grease?

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60 comments

  1. Maureen L.

    07/19/2013

    Great job, Julie! What a great way to build on old tradition and add new memories for your children! It looks beautiful! I am surprised at the great quality from spray paint! On a side note, what sort of flooring do you have in the dining room? I am in love with the varying widths of the planks as well as the visual texture/”grainy-ness”. (Not a word, I realize!!). Is it an engineered hardwood, by chance? Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Holly

    07/20/2013

    I do like the idea of offering it to other family members if you aren’t going to use it. But I think it is so much better to repurpose an item like you have, than to have it sitting there unused. I love what you have done with it, it looks amazing. It was built as something to be used, it seems silly not to have it in a form you’ll use it in.
    I have a skirt that was my Nan’s. Although I was able to (just) wear it when I got married, body changes following my daughter’s birth mean I’m not going to fit it again. So I have plans to alter it, based on a dress of my Nan’s I wore as child and with fabric that also holds memories. I know she’d much rather I altered it, was wearing it and thinking of her, than leaving it in my wardrobe.

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  3. JoDi

    07/20/2013

    Definitely worth 2 hours of your time! Your kids are going to enjoy that chair for a long time.

    I have no problem painting wood heirlooms. Paint can be remived so it can always be restored to it’s original appearance somewhere down the road if it gets passed on to someone else who prefers that look.

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  4. Kim

    07/20/2013

    LOVE it!!

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  5. Sara

    07/20/2013

    Amazing transformation. I totally agree with you Andrea. Using that chair and seeing Nora enjoy it is the best testament to your family that you could give. I’m sure your great grandmother would have loved to see it being used and seeing her great great grand- daughter sitting so pretty. Well done you!

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    Debby Reply:

    I was going to say the same thing to Andrea, Sara. I bet her grandmother would love that her chair is still being used by her descendants. It is absolutely beautiful. I have a lovely side table that was my great grandmothers. The top is in bad shape from years of watering her houseplants and sun. I just recently said I was thinking of painting it but felt bad and my SIL said go for it. It’s yours now. So true. You have inspired me.

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  6. Jen

    07/20/2013

    It doesn’t make sense to treat heirlooms with such reverence that they can’t be truly enjoyed. By updating them you can show their history and family connection respect without sacrificing practicality. I think it looks great.

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  7. Jennifer

    07/20/2013

    Oh, so worth your efforts! It’s gorgeous, and you are preserving it, but putting it to good use, too! I didn’t read the other comments, but I hope you’re getting tons more that agree. Seriously, you’ve got pictures of it in its original form. Preserve those. :)

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  8. Tammy @ SkipperClan

    07/20/2013

    I love love love this and that you are USING it! I have several pieces I want to rework but the extended family who gave it to us have a complete freak out at the thought of it being altered. It’s usable and decent as is, I just love the WOW of finishing something like you did with this chair. If I ever prioritize enough time to actually refinish them, I will do what I want with the pieces. We are using ours though so I’m happy to keep everyone happy for the time being.

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  9. Stel

    07/21/2013

    Absolutely with you on this one, and I love the red. I would do similar with my dad’s massive embuia wood grandfather clock, but I did shorten the legs off my mom’s oak breakfast table, and we now use it as a coffee table. I’m also waiting for a tailor to finish off the work on my husband’s grandmothers jackal skin coat! Way to hot to ever wear something like that, but in gilet form it will be in constant use :-)

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    Stel Reply:

    Oops…that should read “wouldn’t”…with the clock!

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  10. Kathy

    07/21/2013

    Well I think the chair looks amazing and Nora loves it to. I think there are arguments on each side of the fence for this one but you are living in 2013 and not 1913 and I agree that it is better to use it as it suits your family and get pleasure from it than it to be preserved in the basement as “great grandma’s heirloom” I think it looks great and painting it red for your family gives you pleasure and a talking point then that’s the whole point isn’t it. Making use of something that was in the family a long time ago. Even if things aren’t heirlooms there are going to be people who love painting timber and people who wouldn’t dream of painting timber. It looks awesome and worth the effort to bring it into 2013. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

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  11. Sandi

    07/22/2013

    I love this idea! As I read your blog, I look directly over at my old wooden high chair that was my grandmothers as well. You have a super great idea and I will be doing the exact same thing to this old heirloom! No doubt, red is a fabulous color!

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  12. Kathryn Bechen

    07/23/2013

    I think the red color is adorable, your daugther enjoying her “new” chair is adorable, and you are adorable for keeping the memento alive in a “modern” way that works for you, and still cherishes your family heirloom. :)

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  13. Amanda @ TheFunMommy

    07/25/2013

    I totally agree with you that it is better to use an item than to let it sit and rot! I can’t speak for your grandma…but I know mine would be much happier to know that I’m using something of hers every day, rather than letting it sit and collect dust. I love how you redid the chair!

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  14. Cindy

    11/20/2013

    Totally love it. Love the color & glad you are using it for Nora. Much better way to not only ‘preserve’ it but love it! Great Grandma would be pleased!

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