A Family Heirloom Repurposed for Daily Use

posted by Andrea | 07/19/2013
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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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Filed under: HomeDIY ProjectsBefore & After

 
 

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60 comments

  1. Sharon H

    07/19/2013

    We have one just like that from my husband’s grandmother and to make your case in point, when I asked him where it was he said, “oh it’s up in the attic!” I showed him your pictures and said we should do that for our grandson. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. Michelle H.

    07/19/2013

    Wow! The chair looks great! I didn’t know you could use spray paint to refinish a chair. I might even be willing to tackle that. Ha!
    How fun that Nora can use something that has been in your family for years. No sense letting it sit around if you can put it to good use! I’m sure your great-grandmother would agree, b/c women of that era didn’t waste anything.

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  3. Allison

    07/19/2013

    Sorry – I agree with the other camp. I read your post and my first thought was leave it as wood – you did an excellent job cleaning it.

    I do like that shade of red.

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  4. Mary Ann

    07/19/2013

    I love it! What a pretty shade of red!

    We’ve been given some family pieces over the years; I’ve learned to ask if it’s ok to paint them and/or alter them before I say yes! There are a few things I would not paint or mess with but most I want to change to be usable.

    We were offered a hutch a few years ago and right away, I mentioned painting it. My MIL about had a hissy! 🙂 I knew right then it wasn’t for us since I really didn’t care for the finish.

    My SIL made the decision when her kids were very small that if an heirloom was so precious that other family members were worried it would get broken/messed up, then she didn’t want it at her house. She wanted only things that could be used and enjoyed. I thought that was pretty smart!

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  5. Lisa

    07/19/2013

    It’s adorable! Love the red! and it’s perfect for Nora. I’m sure she’ll get several years of use out of it.

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  6. Kalyn Brooke | Creative Savings

    07/19/2013

    It looks so different – love the red color!

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  7. Verity

    07/19/2013

    CUTE! I love it!

    I’m going to use this idea.

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  8. Shelly

    07/19/2013

    I love it! It’s beautiful, and I also love your ideas on preserving vs. reusing family heirlooms. I will one day be faced with a very large house full of these “treasures.” Most of them are really not my style so I intend to give this some serious thought. Thanks for sharing, and I can’t wait to hear the story of the hutch. Perhaps you’ll tell us soon? 🙂

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  9. Kim

    07/19/2013

    I’ll bet if your great grandma would be tickled pink to know you are using it everyday………..and that you had painted it such a fun color. It is another perfect pop of color in your gorgeous white country kitchen. Love, love, love it!

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  10. Erica

    07/19/2013

    Absolutely worth the two hours of elbow grease…and it looks like Nora loves it!

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  11. Cheryl

    07/19/2013

    Since you paint a lot of furniture, you may want to invest in a paint sprayer. They don’t cost an arm and a leg, and you can use your regular paint in it and get a flawless paint job! They are especially good on anything intricate (like your high chair), and also doors, shitters, etc. Just clean all the parts really well when you are done.

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  12. Kristen @ Joyfullythriving

    07/19/2013

    That turned out adorable, Andrea! What a great two hour heirloom project! And I have to say, that I think Nora is looking more and more like her lovely mother.

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    Andrea Reply:

    THanks Kristen… and Nora literally looks exactly like my baby pictures 🙂

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  13. Janice

    07/19/2013

    My brother and I have an agreement that if one of us decides that any heirloom item is not wanted anymore, that we have to offer it to the other or to our married children. That way it stays in the family. After our parents died, we divided up the treasures according to desire. I claimed our grandmother’s teaching license certificate from 1902 because I had become the first teacher in the family since her time period. I insisted he take a certain table even though I had refinished it for my mom because he actually had more memories of it than I did. And if he ever wants to paint it, that’s fine with me. Paint is such a wonderful decorating tool. I painted our mom’s dining room buffet a satin black and my brother thought it was beautiful.

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  14. wilma

    07/19/2013

    Love it. And I love your philosophy–and completely agree. Who wants a bunch of stuff in their basement that could be used and enjoyed by themselves or others? What a great way to repurpose a sentimental item!

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  15. Julie

    07/19/2013

    I think it is wonderful and whole heartedly agree with your feeling about heirlooms. I imagine that hundreds of items have been carefully packed away – their stories unshared with other family members so that when grandma or grandpa passes away and the treasures are discovered, no one knows how important they are to the family’s story.

    Your preservation and transformation of the chair to a useable state for your family ensures that Nora will always know it’s story and perhaps someday she will refinish it to fit her style/family.

    Enjoy!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Julie — and I know from personal experience that there are WAY too many family heirlooms packed away in people’s basements and attics. There are also way too many heirlooms that are kept out of guilt — even if they don’t need or want it.

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  16. Five4FiveMeals

    07/19/2013

    I love it as an accent piece! And Nora will have great memories of sitting in the “red chair” watching her mama make pancakes on Saturday morning.

    That high chair looks almost exactly like the old high chair my grandfather built for my dad and his brothers. My sister and I used it also, but my mother circumvented the wooden tray by sliding us right up to the table and putting our food on a plastic placemat she could wipe right off.

    And I am so happy you made this your own. I have never understood “decorative furniture.” My philosophy is that furniture should be both functional and comfortable.

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  17. Lea Stormhammer

    07/19/2013

    I have a huge rocking chair in my living room that belonged to my great-grandparents and my grandparents and was given to me by my grandmother when I moved into my first apartment and needed furniture. I love the chair (it’s soooo comfortable!) but it’s definitely time to refinish it and put a new cushion on it!

    You’ve inspired me to put that refinishing project on my calendar for this summer.

    Thanks!
    Lea

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  18. Chalyse Meiklejohn

    07/19/2013

    Love it! I’m honestly surprised you didn’t distress the chair like you did with the dresser in Nora’s room. But I think it’s adorable just the way it is! 🙂

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  19. Courtney

    07/19/2013

    This is so cute! Did you go over the larger surfaces with your awning red or just use the spray paint?

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    Andrea Reply:

    I did everything with spray paint so it all looked the same and there were no brush marks.

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  20. Jennifer

    07/19/2013

    I think it’s great! It’s getting used and not collecting dust. How fun for Nora!

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  21. Jamie Rohrbaugh

    07/19/2013

    Love it! It looks great! The hutch is gorgeous too. Great job!

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  22. Elizabeth

    07/19/2013

    I’m sure refinishing would have looked really pretty, but it would have taken longer than two yours and the red looks super!

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  23. Jessica

    07/19/2013

    I think it looks fabulous! Just thinking/seeing all the GROSS you got off of it. Definitely worth it!
    As humans we can get so attached to the emotions behind the objects, that we forget what that objects purpose really is…a chair…or a plate to be used and enjoyed…not hidden away to torture ourselves over the loss of that person physically. Good on you for breaking through that stigma.

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  24. Debbie

    07/19/2013

    I think your great grandmother would be so happy with the color, plus knowing her grandchildren are using and enjoying the chair. It’s full of history and life!

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  25. Amanda C

    07/19/2013

    Love it!! Your great grandmother is probably in heaven poking your great grandfather saying, “See, I told you it would be cute in red!” I honestly feel that our ancestors would just be happy to know they are still though of and now Nora will have pictures to show to her grandchildren of her in the chair that belonged to her great-great grandmother.

    Cheers to you and your family!

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  26. Jenn L.

    07/19/2013

    The red looks great, but it appears to be more of a cool-toned or blue-based red than your Awning Red.

    Still definitely looks great 😀

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  27. Lou

    07/19/2013

    I think it is precious! I totally get the keeping antiques in original state as much as possible, especially if they may be sold or traded. But you did what worked for you and your family.
    I bet your great-grandmother would be pleased you still had the chair, in it’s original state. But I
    bet she would be thrilled to see Nora’s smiling face sitting in the refinished red version!
    Enjoy it, it’s obviously a sturdy piece to still be here, and in such good shape, after so much use!

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  28. Christina

    07/19/2013

    I think it looks fabulous. The old wood look just do much for it. I just tried painting a small cabinet white . It looked pretty good til I used the mini wax seal polyurethane, then it left yellow streaks? Any ideas as to why? Can I paint over it now or is it doomed?

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, some times polyurethane makes white paint yellow. You can definitely paint over top, but then don’t do any more poly — just leave it plain paint.

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  29. Lori

    07/19/2013

    LOVE IT! awesome job, and totally agree with “treasures” that end up stored away and never used. And you will think of her every time Nora climbs up there. So cool!

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  30. Evie

    07/19/2013

    Andrea, I love what you’ve done with the chair. It’s beautiful!! Nora is THRILLED with it–love those pics!! One suggestion…but I bet you’ve already done it… Did you paint the tray, too? Just in case you ever did decide to put it back on the chair at some point, you’d love and thank yourself if you’d already painted it. 🙂

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  31. Melissa

    07/19/2013

    This is awesome! My in-laws have an old wood high chair (don’t remember who it belonged to, but I know my husband and his brother used it as kids) and my husband keeps telling me that when we have kids, we could use it (he loves a good bargain like you!). I, being the more practical one, told him it wouldn’t work because it’s wood and I’m not cleaning a wood tray (I laughed when I read that in your post). He doesn’t understand as he’s never been around children under the age of 5, so I just let it go and said “we’ll see”… but now I CAN use the high chair… just for a different purpose! Totally keeping this for the future!

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  32. Amy

    07/19/2013

    I love it. Great job!. I just spray painted an old stool we had orange and it looks fantastic in any room in my house.

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  33. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    07/19/2013

    I had to laugh when I saw the first photo–I’ve been on a bit of a Heritage Red binge the last few months, so I recognized the color right away! 🙂

    I like to preserve wood furniture that’s in excellent condition, but sometimes a piece of furniture needs some paint to bring it to life again. IMO, that’s what happened with this cute piece. It’s old AND new, and that gives it personality.

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  34. Jaci

    07/19/2013

    Love it! I think it looks great painted and love the color pop. Great work!!!

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  35. Melissa

    07/19/2013

    I go back and forth on painting furniture. I love the look of a rich deep wood hue; your kitchen floors are gorgeous. But I also really like the look of white trim, I can’t get over it, I think it makes everything look cleaner and paint colors just pop off from it. But my husband will not let me paint the traditional wood trim or door or our kitchen cabinets in our 1965 Ranch so I will have to wait till we replace any of it.

    When my sister inherited an old dresser of my great grandma’s (who we had known before she got Alzheimer’s and passed away), I thought my grandma would be livid that she painted it hot pink and put on blinging hardware for my niece. My grandma didn’t bat an eye, in fact, she was proud that my niece LOVED it and that it was still in the family. It could’ve been thrown away or given away but my sister gave it new life and I admire her for being brave enough to do it, not knowing what grandma or mom would think.

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  36. Karen J

    07/19/2013

    Beautiful, insightful and functional. A win win!

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  37. Megan

    07/19/2013

    I TOTALLY agree with your philosophy about heirloom or old furniture. The punch of red color looks so great! It was definitely worth the time to make it fit better with your home and family’s style. Great job! 🙂

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  38. Lee Cockrum

    07/19/2013

    I have really mixed feelings about painting natural wood. It’s something I almost never do unless it is “junk wood” designed to be painted, or possibly an old piece that was veneered, and the veneer was in bad shape and had to be removed.

    I agree that the chair is functional, and looks cute, but I do honestly think that staining and tung oil would have the same results functionally, and would be much more in keeping with the history of the piece, and more aesthetically pleasing. But it is in your home, not mine!

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  39. Jamie

    07/19/2013

    I think the chair looks fantastic. I agree with you also about if you are not going to use it then you should alter it so you can or else get rid of it. My mom has been holding on to my Grandma’s desk that is just taking up a HUGE amount of space in their bedroom and she just uses it to stack things on (clutter). I keep telling her that she is not able to enjoy it the way it is and she should get rid of it. She doesn’t want to get rid of it JUST BECAUSE it belonged to my G’ma.

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  40. Dawn H

    07/19/2013

    LOVE IT!!! Nice work, Andrea! Nora looks like she loves it, and the color is great. For everything there is a season…good choice for your family today!

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