Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design for the Ages, Not the Times

Some time ago, we talked about the idea of heirloom design. It’s the notion that the stuff we include in our lives be worthy of being handed down to future generations; that its function, aesthetics and durability are designed for the ages, not just the times. When things can withstand this type of scrutiny, they also take on their own lives and stories. A project called, appropriately enough, The Heirloom Project, seeks to tell those stories.

The project shows a number of heirlooms along with their owners’ stories–how they came to have them, what they mean to them and so on. While a number of the objects are sentimental (old war metals, a transistor radio, old documents), others are everyday objects like ceramic bowls, a Leatherman tool, and a Beaux Arts-style lamp.

These opera glasses are one example:


These turn-of-the-century opera glasses belonged to my paternal grandmother who I never met as she died the year before my parents married in 1962. My father, who died four years ago, was a conductor, his father both a cellist and a tailor. He talked about my grandmother from time to time, sad that my brother and I never knew her. My entire childhood was steeped in music; both parents would sing Mozart, Brahms, Haydn, Beethoven to us, I learned to play piano and flute, my brother, the trumpet and then the drums.

While my mother only gave me the glasses when my father died, they remind me of the first time he took me to the opera: I was seven and it was to see Carmen. I remember being utterly enchanted by the melodies and the drama, but was so sleepy by the interval he had to take me home to bed. The opera, as with all the music he introduced me to, has remained in my head forever.

Whether practical or not, there’s a certain beauty to objects that have been protected against the ravages of time. The project is illuminating insofar as it makes us wonder how many of the objects in our own lives deserve a story? Are any of the objects in our lives worthy of being handed down to future generations? If not, why not?

See more at The Heirloom Project

Via FastCo Design

  • Fred Miller

    This topic is confusing to a recovering hoarder. Of course, we save things that are valuable and functional to us. I saved quart milk cartons for flower pots. 20 years later I tossed them as part of my cure. I have WWII compass to get rid of. Modern compasses are better and I have a gps compass on my galaxy s3. I have my kindergarten apron hanging near my clothes shelf. The wonderful embroidered name and finger paint stains tickle the old neuron links. I remember the thing and those fresh and scary experiences, but it must go. Following the Buddhist reminder, so too will the mountains crumble to dust, I seek freedom from heritage design. I grant those following behind me the same freedom. We are all just a yard sale away from peace.

    • David Friedlander

      the confusion is understandable given your history. and there is a fine line between delusional attachment (i.e. hoarding) and a well kept heirloom. and sure, in the end it’s all impermanent. but in the meantime we need stuff. and given that, why not make it stuff worth keeping?

      • Ray Russell

        That brings up the question; what’s worth keeping? I judge an object by its usefulness. If I don’t use it, often, its going to find a new home. But I’m probably an extremist.

        • di

          Me, too. It needs to be practical.

    • di

      I enjoy my heirlooms, but also pass them on to responsible family members.

  • John N. Robinson

    How does one design himself/herself for the ages, not the times? Something that I am really thinking through as I have sold, gifted, or left behind my gated Scottsdale mansion for a one-bedroom rental in San Diego. Air mattress, books, and a few essentials……

    • di

      With age, I’ve had to adjust to new technology, but my concepts of thrift are predominant. Going without is a creative endeavor.

  • Karen Bil Ratzlaff

    When my brother no longer wanted the antique oak china hutch that had been in our family for eons, I paid (a lot!) to have it shipped out to me. To me its clean Mission style is one of the best examples of heirloom design and though I don’t own china, I do use it. The bonus… it’s a wonderful reminder of happy times growing up.