An Antique Oil Painting, a Curbside Sideboard, and Some Tableware

Heirloom Stories, Vol. 1

Most heirlooms have a story, and we want to know more of them. This Heirloom Stories interview series explores why people collect antiques and how special collectibles find new life generations after their creation.


Name: Meryl

What was the first antique you ever bought?

I spent my entire childhood being dragged around to antique stores and junk shops by my mother, so trying to recall the very first purchase would be a challenge. In order to keep us engaged and to give herself time to shop, my mom would let my brother and I roam the stores and pick things out to take home. Sometimes it was a book, sometimes it was an antique toy, but usually, it was some sort of small breakable trinket to add to a collection. I remember collecting old perfume bottles and miniature glassware pieces, some of which I have wrapped up in a memory box somewhere. 

But to keep things simple, I’m going to choose an old oil painting I picked out at a church sale in rural New Hampshire one summer when I was right in that middle school-beginning of high school age. I have always been drawn to the colorful imagery of fruit, and this still life of an old copper tea kettle sharing space with apples and grapes against the most perfect periwinkle backdrop hooked me in. 

antique oil painting
An old oil painting purchased at a church rummage sale.

My mom ended up hanging it in one of the bathrooms in my childhood home where it lived until my husband and I bought our first home. It traveled with me to another state where I fought with its rustic frame and threatened it with a newer more modern style. I am extremely relieved that I did not follow through because the age, charm, and simplicity of that wood is irreplaceable.

I’m still searching for the perfect place for it in our current home but it made its most recent debut as a contender in the office makeover that I am orchestrating. I didn’t know then it would be the start of an art collection, but it says a lot about trusting your gut and getting something that you’re truly drawn to. 

Do you have a meaningful heirloom that was handed down to you?

I have quite a collection of hand me downs, but I would have to say that my favorite heirloom is the antique buffet that has been a part of my life since I can remember. My mom picked it up on the side of the road from one of her neighbors when I was an infant. The neighbor’s father, who immigrated from Ireland with this piece of furniture, was downsizing, and my mom paid $75 for it.

The neighbor’s father, who immigrated from Ireland with this piece of furniture, was downsizing, and my mom paid $75 for it.

I can trace it back to my earliest memories and all of the houses it lived in with us. I’ve always been enchanted by its original teardrop-shaped cabinet pulls and the way that it still faintly smells like the scented candles my mom used to store in it. 

antique sideboard
Meryl inherited this antique sideboard from her mother who bought it on the side of the road.

If you could only acquire one category of antiques or collectibles, which would it be and why? 

I have a thing for furniture. I’m always trying to optimize my lineup of pieces, but at some point, you run out of room. So, if I had to choose just one category it would have to be vintage china and tableware. I never get tired of switching up the everyday plates or taking out special bowls on the weekends to have chips and salsa or cheese and crackers. It’s an easy way to make the every day feel special. 

antique tableware
A collection of vintage tableware that changes with the seasons.

*Responses may be edited for length and clarity.

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Heirlooms at Home is an online publication dedicated to affordable antiques and old houses.

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