7 Tips for Investing in Modern Heirlooms That Will Last for Generations

Know when and how to splurge on heirloom pieces with these expert tips.

mirrors and art in entryway
Photo: Dana Gallagher 

With so many furniture pieces available at the click of a button and home decor trends that change every few years, it can be hard to know how to invest in good quality pieces that will last for generations. The idea of an "heirloom" may bring to mind a vintage item that's already been in your family for decades, but any new piece of furniture or decor can become an heirloom if it stands the test of time. Consumers are starting to embrace both a "less is more" and "quality over quantity" mentality and are beginning their own traditions by investing in modern heirloom pieces.

Tara Dennis, co-founder and director of interior design company Archie Bolden, says modern heirlooms are the "antithesis of some of the big box home furniture brands we all know." She explains that many modern furniture pieces are made cheaply so they can be sold at a low price point, attracting consumers who want to change up their decor style every few years. These pieces (which often come in small boxes and require hours of assembly) are not made with the intention of following consumers from home to home.

Dennis explains the difference between these items and a piece of furniture or decor that's meant to last is that "they are disposable; a modern heirloom is not," she says. "It's well made, potentially by hand or if not, it's the result of good design and great manufacturing."

Because searching for a modern heirloom requires "conscious purchasing and possession," Dennis explains these special items need to be invested in carefully. If you're looking for a piece of decor or furniture that will last for years and can be handed down to future generations, take a look at these tips before you shop. Interior designers offer their best advice for investing in modern heirlooms.

1. Invest in Quality Materials

You want an heirloom to last for as long as possible, so the material should be strong and durable but also timeless. "Think in elements like silver or china [that] will never go out of style," says Sara Johnson of Sara Johnson Interiors . "These can be passed down for generations and reinvented in new ways in years to come."

And while modern heirlooms can certainly be large or expensive items, they don't have to be. Johnson explains she was given silver baby cups growing up, and continued that tradition with her own kids. "Now, they are displayed on a lucite tray in my living room, modernizing this tradition."

wood dining room windows table
Annie Schlechter

2. Splurge on Pieces That Will Last

An heirloom, by definition, should last for several generations, so it's important to seek out pieces that are built to last. Splurge on an item that is hand-crafted or uses high-quality, sustainable materials. For example, a particle board coffee table from a chain store will fall apart before it becomes an heirloom, but a handcrafted wooden table from a local artisan can be expected to last for generations. The hand-crafted item will almost always be more expensive than something from a big box store, but when you think of how many years of use you can expect to get out of something that's well-made, the price may seem a bit more appealing.

3. Look for Timeless Pieces

When thinking of investing in a modern heirloom, consider upgrading a timeless piece from your own home with the intention of passing it down in later years. But keep in mind what kinds of furniture will be needed later on. Generations to come will always need a dining table, a well-made armchair, or a quality bookshelf. "Dining tables, dressers, mirrors, armchairs—all items you can take with you and will likely keep for many years," Dennis explains. She suggests splurging on these timeless pieces and spending less on trendy items that are likely to go out of style more quickly. "Side chairs, bar stools, and night stands are not normally favorite items, so they can be more cost-effective," she says.

wood bathroom vintage storage
Jay Wilde

4. Think Practical or Sculptural

When collecting modern heirlooms, items should be either practical or decorative. Furniture pieces should be made to last for many years: A wooden chair, sturdy table, or desk makes an ideal heirloom, whereas anything electric will likely lose its function. If you're not in the market for new furniture at the moment, opt for something that may not have a lot of function but is a beautiful piece, like a sculpture or painting. "Highly sculptural items may not be practical, but they err on the side of artistic, so may become a collector's item," Dennis explains.

Noelle Isbell of Noelle Interiors says she loves "incorporating sculptures, bowls, vases, and planters. Those decor items mixed in with new modern selections are a timeless design that creates a story connected to the homeowner." This style of mixing old with new is reflective of the 'hipstoric' home decor trend that's become popular recently.

5. Mix High and Low Pieces

Dennis suggests sticking with one era when mixing heirlooms with items of a lower price point. "Sticking with a consistent era [and] aesthetic is key to mixing high and low pieces. You want the items to be in harmony or, at the opposite end of the spectrum—completely clash in disharmony, which can work if done right," she explains. "If you intend to mix then mix intentionally, pull from a range of shapes and forms."

When it comes to heirloom china, "invest in a beautiful patterned accent or salad plate set," Johnson suggests. "Then, you can fill in the place setting with lower priced plates or a more modern motif.  You will never regret having these modern heirloom pieces that will stand the test of time."

6. Don't Confuse Expensive with Well-Made

While a hefty price tag can often mean a piece is well-made, expensive doesn't always mean high quality. Before investing in a modern heirloom, do some research. Find out if it is handmade and learn what materials were used and how it was crafted. A piece made by a local artisan is likely worth a higher price tag, while something from a chain store may not actually be of a quality that matches the price.

And remember that an heirloom doesn't have to break the bank. You can find beautiful vintage pieces at second-hand stores, estate sales, eBay, or Etsy. And, you can always have an existing furniture piece restored if it has good bones.

mirrors and art in entryway

Dana Gallagher

7. Embrace Art

Art is one of the best heirlooms to invest in, as art pieces often increase in value over time. They also can easily be modernized while keeping their essence intact. "A piece can always be modernized for generations to come by simply replacing the matte and frame," Johnson says. In five, ten, or twenty years, you can swap out the frame for something that better matches your decor style while continuously displaying the same art piece.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles