Raid Your Attic: Make the Most of Second-Hand Decor | News, Sports, Jobs


This image posted by Aileen Weintraub shows a vintage chest of drawers adorned with a bouquet of flowers in a vase converted from an oversized fancy salt shaker in a bedroom in her home. Weintraub is a veteran of the struggle with used furniture. Her recently released memoir, ‘Knocked Down’, details the months she spent bedridden in a house full of items her husband’s family had owned for generations. photo AP

As we live in a world of throwaways, it’s easy to forget that previous generations kept almost everything.

Furniture was made to last. Pieces of crystal or porcelain were investments passed down from parent to child to grandchild. Even mundane objects could remain in use for decades: the same Corningware bowl and the same General Electric mixer could produce birthday cake batter for a generation and more.

Many of these objects still exist, tucked under layers of yellowing newspaper in cardboard boxes or wrapped in dust-laden sheets. American attics, basements and garages are filled with home decor and second-hand household items waiting to be dug up.

And now may be the perfect time for it to happen, with prices rising and supply chains boiling.

Using second-hand items comes in handy for anyone hoping to redecorate this spring. It’s good for the environment. It can even lift your spirits if the items have sentimental value or if you find out your great-grandmother’s style was actually quite fabulous.

This combination of photos posted by Shawn Hollenbach shows the transformation of an antique sofa. American attics, basements and garages are filled with home decor and second-hand household items waiting to be dug up. And now may be the perfect time for it to happen, with prices rising and supply chains boiling. photo AP

“There’s joy in putting a room together and knowing you’re restoring a piece of history,” says Shawn Hollenbach, a New York comedian who recently rehabilitated an antique couch that was among his late mother’s prized possessions.

It was a difficult DIY project. The fabric was very worn and Hollenbach hadn’t reupholstered anything yet. But he now proudly shows it to guests and tells the story of this cozy piece of furniture.

“It just gives you a sense of pride,” he says.

There can also be stress. Anything related to family history can carry emotional baggage, and sometimes there’s the literal weight of heavy furniture that no one in a family really wants.

Rather than storing items away for another year — or a decade — interior designer Melissa Cooley of Washington, DC, the Case Design firm is clear: Get those precious items out of their boxes. Dust furniture that no one has used since the Eisenhower administration. Take a fresh look.

“You do them no honor by keeping them in the attic”, she says.

With that in mind, we asked interior designers and homeowners how they got the most out of second-hand furniture and homewares.


Glassware and tableware often stay wrapped because people fear breaking something that a previous generation has carefully preserved.

Interior designer Nadia Subaran, co-founder of Maryland-based firm Aidan Design, worked with a client who had a family collection of vintage green glassware and plates that no one was lucky enough to appreciate.

“When we were talking about the kitchen design, she said, ‘I really want to get these things out of the boxes, out of the attic. Not only displayed but used, ‘” Subaran said. “So we did an entire sink wall with no wall cabinets, just open shelving, so all of those things could be front and center.”

Today, this homeowner sees the items every time she walks into her kitchen and finds beauty in their striking green color.

Subaran encourages people to display treasures, as she herself did after inheriting a vintage saree from India, handmade in orange silk with shimmering gold thread. “I have very few occasions to wear saris”, she says, “but they are beautiful.” Also: Her husband loves the color orange.

So rather than leaving it in a box, “We literally hung it on a rod and then had a plexiglass cover made that doesn’t allow UV rays to come in and damage it,” she says. “I walk through the front door and that’s the first thing I see.”


Aileen Weintraub is a veteran of the struggle with used furniture. His recently published memoirs, “Reversed,” details the months she spent in bed in a house full of items that her husband’s family had owned for generations. There is also a barn full of items from his own family.

“I was stuck in this old farmhouse with everyone else’s furniture,” she says. “Even the dishes are from the 1940s.”

As they debated what to keep, sell or give away, she persuaded her husband to try moving certain items to new places or using them in new ways.

A sofa has been moved to better access the view through a window. A marble-topped table didn’t look good anywhere but was too valuable to give away, so they tried it outside on a covered porch. It hadn’t been designed as outdoor furniture, but, says Weintraub, “it has become the most beautiful place to sit and watch the sunset every night.”

Hollenbach had the same experience with the sofa he inherited, moving it from place to place and eventually settling in one spot in the guest room.


Cooley worked with a client who didn’t like a heavy cherry wood cabinet from her husband’s family, but needed to find a way to use it.

“She has a very luxurious and modern style” Cooley says, and this firm was the opposite of that.

In such cases, the designer recommends isolating what you like in your favorite style and bringing some of that vibe to the furniture you inherited. She had the cherry finish removed from the cabinet and painted it gloss black. Obsolete hardware has been replaced with modern brass parts.

“Find the elements that you like, that you appreciate the most”, Cooley says, “so let’s start sprucing up the product we want to improve.”

Leaning into the contrast between old and new can produce beautiful results, says Subaran. If a traditional piece of furniture doesn’t fit in your modern living room, try placing it in an entryway where it will stand out as something special.

“You can combine it with a mirror or a more modern lamp”, she says, “to help it connect with your other spaces.”

Cooley remembers a client who had a historic gate that had been in the family for generations.

“These are African American customers and it goes back to their ancestry,” she says. The small and beautiful hardwood door had “a bit of history on its origin, on which plantation it was. It goes back so far. »

But the door hadn’t been used in years and didn’t really belong in their home. Cooley’s solution: The couple’s new bedroom design would involve building a small linen closet.

“We were able to find hardware that looked aged, and we actually built their linen closet just to fit that door,” Cooley said. “It’s an ode to his family. And when she wakes up, she can see it every day.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Melissa Rayworth writes lifestyle articles for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at @mrayworth.

Today’s breaking news and more to your inbox


Comments are closed.