Grandmother's china cabinet gets new life in contemporary home

by Donna Benton

As far back as I can remember, Grandmother’s china cabinet stood steadfast on the front wall of her dining room, flanked by two tall, wooden windows that looked across the porch and onto the sweeping front lawn. On its shelves, her prized formal china collection was displayed, though I can never recall an occasion where the gilded plates and saucers made it to the dining table.

Arranged on the shelves, among the uniformly spaced and stacked dishes, was an odd assortment of mementos — a replica of the Statue of Liberty, a ceramic rooster and hen salt and pepper shakers and a snow globe that played a Christmas tune. Grandmother was a simple lady and not one for redecorating. Fashion and fad came and went, but Grandmother’s home was anchored.

Today, I find comfort and foundation in the memories of Grandmother’s home. Interestingly, this is a sharp contradiction to my design approach for my own home.

I inherited my grandmother’s hazel eyes but her unwavering style is lost on me. It just wouldn’t seem right for Grandmother to be changing up her home between my visits, but my home is a constant ebb and flow of color, style and decor. Variety keeps me comfortable in my space. Perhaps these small changes satisfy me enough to keep me from packing up my belongings like a gypsy and heading west. When I start to feel a little confined or stuck in a rut, I just move some furniture around and I am good for a while.

I have developed some techniques over time to accommodate this need to rearrange. I take a “whole house” approach and try to select furnishings and decor that will work in several rooms so I have the flexibility to use the pieces in different ways. Today, homes are more eclectic and it’s OK to break the rules and let traditional furniture pieces cross over for other uses.

Grandmother’s china cabinet ended up in my home. It got a new finish to tie it in with my existing decor. Its first stop was in my home office where it provided much needed storage. It found its way into the master bath as part of an impromptu late-night redo, where it served as an apothecary cabinet and great storage for towels and linens. For the holidays it performed its traditional duties, housing china in the dining room, and it is currently in the pantry, filled with cans and dry goods.

It is not uncommon for homeowners to regretfully store inherited furniture that was once prized, simply because they can’t figure out how to incorporate it into their decor. Try a creative approach and don’t be afraid to use that piece in an untraditional way. I think Grandmother would approve.