10 Ways to Use Your Country Antiques Every Day
Those of us who are addicted to American country antiques and folk art have the constant issue of how and where to display them. If you're like me, you ran out of room a long time ago!
So I decided to use them - not just admire them! Of course, many are too fragile to be used without damaging them. I love my band boxes, but most are made of pasteboard covered with wallpaper, and they can be damaged easily if you open and close them too much. I just look at them.
But there are many that can actually benefit from use. Here are some ideas:
Boxes, chests, wood bins, desks, case pieces, bottles and many other items were meant for storage from the start. Don't forget, early houses didn't have closets.
This New England sponge painted 6 board chest sits at the foot of our bed and is filled with bedding- it also acts as a bench!
This Connecticut highboy is in our dining room and holds napkins and table cloths. Highboys would never have been in a dining room - more likely a bedroom for clothes storage, but this works for us.
Blown apothecary jars are perfect for storing herbs and spices - you can see what you have, the tin lids keep the dust and dirt out, but they aren't so tight as to cause mold. Perfect!
This little child's lap desk sits near a door and is filled with sunscreen and bug repellents - for the hot and buggy weather.
I found this old seed chest at a show many years ago - the drawers hold all my plant supplies, seeds for next season, scissors, plant stakes and wires, etc. This one really gets used!
Literally, everything that can hold something can be used for storage, - and for hiding those not-so-attractive necessities of daily living.
I am a gardener, and during the long New England winters I really need to have plants in the house. All of them are in an antique! They just look better.
This is a great blue firkin - but the lid is long gone. I used it for plants all the time - just be sure to put a plastic liner in the bottom - wood doesn't like sitting water!
Crocks and bean pots are perfect for plants. Made of clay, they actually like the moisture coming from plants. The only thing I've found is that they will sweat out onto your table, so put something under them.
Baskets of all types make very pretty planters - you can't plant directly in them, so they need a pot inside to hold the plant, and a saucer to catch the water. But they really work!
I love to cook, so kitchen antiques have always been a favorite of mine. While some are hard to use, or at least harder to use than our modern utensils (think rusty graters), many can be used instead of new kitchen gear-- and that's far more satisfying.
Bowls of all types are great for all kinds of uses. I like to keep my onions, shallots and potatoes out on the counter, so I have put them in old red ware and Bennington bowls. They look great and are easy to keep clean.
Wooden bowls and mortars are also great to use, but cleaning them for use with food is really important. You don't know what they may have held in the past! Use a good non-toxic wood cleaner, or just plain soap and hot water, followed by a coat of vegetable oil.
I use my wood bowls and spoons for salads, for mixing, for fruit, and I love my little herb mortar and pestle which I use constantly to grind herbs I've dried from my garden
If your wood items are in old paint, you want to be especially careful about protecting their surfaces. NO soap and water. I love my blue cutlery box with green apples in it. Just don't let the apples rot and stain the wood.
Cutting boards of all shapes and sizes come in really handy for any cook. See notes above about cleaning them and keeping them from drying out.
I love baskets which can be used to hold all kinds of things - usually more attractively than their original packaging.
I found one that is the perfect size for dinner napkins, and another that works for all kinds of bread and cookies.
This old crock belonged to my grandfather, and since it still has its lid, it's great for storing flour.
And all my herbs and spices are stored in hand blown apothecary jars with tin lids.
Ceramics and glass should be used too. I have collected blue transfer ware for many years. It holds up very well for everyday use - much of it is even fine in the dishwasher. I don't use the very rare pieces or the ones that are fragile, but this old platter is the perfect size and shape for lots of uses.
And what's better than drinking your wine from an old decanter in a hand blown glass!
We lose power in New England fairly often. All of our candle holders are antiques, and we have a lot of lanterns around, too. We light them all when the power goes out, but we also use them every day - ALWAYS have candle light dinners!
Quilts, homespun blankets and sheets, counterpanes and pillowcases can all be used as they were intended originally. But beware! Textiles can be fragile and damaged easily. I used to collect quilts of all types, which I still love, and have used them on our beds - mostly folded at the bottom. I made the mistake of using a great old indigo and white basket quilt on a bed in a room that got lots of sun.
It faded badly in places - that can't be undone. Also, constantly pulling them over the bed when you make it can damage the stitches. So now I fold them and don't use them much.
But they're pretty to look at!
Oriental rugs are wonderful accessories - put padding under those you walk on frequently or they will wear quickly, like this one, which I still love:
Small prayer rugs make good table mats on a nice scrub top table.
You can find good old pieces of homespun linen, quilts and wool blankets that aren't perfect- they have holes or tears - and are pretty inexpensive. Use them to make curtains, pillows and throws.
Just use it! Unless it is very fragile, furniture, no matter how old, is meant to be used. Yes, joints can get loose and wobbly, you might get some nicks and scratches, but honest wear is natural and expected.
We eat at this table every day. The scrub top is usually left uncovered and just scrubbed if needed.
The chairs are reproductions. I used to have 4 18th century windsor chairs at this table, but the day that a very overweight friend sat down hard on one was the day I decided that they were too fragile for everyday use.
We don't use the formal dining room every day, so these 18th century spoon back Queen Anne side chairs work well. They have been reglued when they got wobbly, and one of them just sits in the corner because it's a bit fragile.
Candle stands and side tables work well as end tables and tea tables.
Bedrooms benefit from case pieces, and while the drawers don't slide as easily as in a modern piece, they're worth it!
This New England blanket chest is in a guest room - bedding is stored in the top, and the two drawers are used for the guests.
I draw the line at antique beds, though. I like a very comfy mattress, and a big, wide bed, - not easy to achieve with an antique bed. I admire those who can do it, but I just can't.
Sometimes a piece is just too far gone to use at it was intended. I don't believe in butchering antiques for new uses, but when you fine interesting parts, or damage pieces, sometimes you can repurpose them.
I like this Victorian wash stand which didn't have a top, but is now a working sink in a guest bath.
A child's table and a 6 board chest work well as an end table and a coffee table in the room where we spend most of our time.
Some pieces work well as a kitchen island:
Refitting old cupboards or using antique shutters to hide the tv can be done easily - nothing spoils the early look more than a flat screen!
My friend, Gerry Hendrickson, found these old green shutters, added antique hinges and a latch, and put them at the top of a staircase to suggest that there is another room just beyond them!~ very clever.
There's a whole blog post on using antiques in the garden on this site (see Antiques Flower in the Garden, August 2016 ). There are lots of collectible antiques which were meant to be in a garden in the first place, and lots of others you can use for great effect.
Bee skeps and bird houses:
Found pieces of iron, and interesting objects:
Old garden tools:
Sundials and garden sculpture:
Adding antique latches, hinges and hooks to your doors and walls creates an early "look", and can also be practical .
If you have a real wood burning fireplace, use antique andirons and cooking tools. If you don't have one, you can put up an old mantle and pretend!
My friend, Gerry, found one with a door and it's a perfect addition to her room:
And you can cook whole meals in this stuff!
As a passionate collector of early American country antiques, I have found over the years that using the items in practical ways is much more satisfying (usually) than just looking at them.
And I can then justify - at least to myself - buying more!