What is an Heirloom?

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Forum topic by Mark A. DeCou posted 07-03-2007 02:40 PM 2013 views 2 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

07-03-2007 02:40 PM

Topic tags/keywords: mark decou decoustudio wwwdecoustudiocom heirloom furniture woodworking

I have been using a term in my marketing materials…..”Heirloom Furniture.”

I have also seen others use this term. Recently a fellow professional woodworker used this term several times describing his work to me during a phone conversation we had.

I looked at photos of his work, and then looked at my work, and I started to wonder…..

”What constitutes the label of Heirloom on a piece of furniture?”

I just don’t really know, but I would like to use it properly. So, for the past week, I have been pondering the question.

Instead of posting my thoughts and looking like an idiot, I decided to post the question, and get some input, and then with the input, try to develop a proper definition and use of this overused term.

Then, if I still look like an idiot, at least I will have company. Ha.

Thanks for your help,
Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

36 replies so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#1 posted 07-03-2007 02:45 PM

that’s a good point—in today’s sales pitch world, lingo is often tosses around for the value of impact rather than the honesty/truth of the word.

My thoughts about “heirloom” is that it is something that is passed down through a family, through generations. So I guess if you are making heirloom furniture it would be something of quality that a family couldn’t part with later, and the same with their children and their children.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4096 days

#2 posted 07-03-2007 02:47 PM

To add to Debbie’s line of thought. It is also built to stand the test of time.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#3 posted 07-03-2007 02:58 PM

I like where this heading so far…....thanks Debbie and Wayne.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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Roger Strautman

656 posts in 4132 days

#4 posted 07-03-2007 03:18 PM

Great blog!

My opinion is that a “heirloom” is anything that is passed along through generations whether it is family or business but to change hands for generations it has to be made of a very high quality to withstand that movement from generation to generation. Does that make sense?

Another thought is a “heirloom” has to start somewhere and that is as a prize possession for someone who so truly loves it that they want it passed along. Thanks Mark!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#5 posted 07-03-2007 03:23 PM

and along with the “passing down through generations” there is a history that builds with the piece…. It isn’t just a piece of furniture (or whatever)... it is the past, the present, the future

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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Roger Strautman

656 posts in 4132 days

#6 posted 07-03-2007 03:26 PM

Very nice Deb! Are you married? LOL!!!! What a lucky guy to have you.

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#7 posted 07-03-2007 03:35 PM

yes, yes, yes…..I hear what you are saying. Keep it coming.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#8 posted 07-03-2007 03:37 PM

what was that Roger? Debbie is married. She also lives in another country….and it is cold up there. And for every dollar, they only give you 75 cents up there. Although, she does give out good advice. Can she cook?

Another admirer Deb,
thanks for your hard work on the eMag and this community.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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Roger Strautman

656 posts in 4132 days

#9 posted 07-03-2007 04:08 PM

Thanks Mark for the reality check, I just wasn’t weighing everything! What are you saying? The way to a mans heart is thru his belly?LOL! Thanks Deb for the little boost in the eMag!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#10 posted 07-03-2007 04:45 PM

now I know why I log onto LJ so often – and I thought it was for brain exercise. No. It’s to get my ego fluffed up :D

Thanks re: eMag.

Now.. let’s see…
I’m a widow …. have a partner (a wonderful guy I might add) (oh and yes, he is VERY lucky to have me!!! i keep reminding him that, at least) hahaa … I live in Canada… where the Canadian dollar is almost even with the American dollar these days… and it’s only cold for a few months each year….. and I’m female, so full of advice… and I’m not the best cook but I make good bread, yummy pumpkin pie, and am currently (haha) making Red CURRANT sorbet for those hot afternoons that are on our way.

and Rog…. your “little boost” in eMag was all earned by you. You did all the work. I just wrote about it. :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4124 days

#11 posted 07-03-2007 07:20 PM

I’ll agree with what’s been said so far.

I visited The Joinery in Portland, Oregon sometime back, and liked their tagline: “Building Tomorrow’s Antiques Today”. That goes beyond the overused “heirloom” and says that whether or not this is going to have sentimental value to your heirs, it’s going to have inherent value.

But for me to believe “heirloom”, I have to believe:

1. That it’s something that I’ll cherish and invest enough in emotionally that my heirs (I’m extremely unlikely to have biologically related children) will remember me by it.

2. That it will survive my use of it.

3. That, should said heirs get their hands on this object before their mid 30s, that it’ll be both repairable and worth repairing.

4. That the style will be enduring enough that my heirs will want to proudly display this item rather than keeping it out of a sense of duty, but shunting it off to a corner and referring to it as “that tacky thing Uncle Dan saddled us with”.

5. That it’ll survive their children.

Note, particularly, the “repairable” part. I’m currently in the process of attempting to refinish a table that was once my mom’s aunt’s, and I’m having a heck of a time working around the various finishes that this poor table has been saddled with over the years. If it weren’t so special to the family, I’d built anodther one, with a style I like just a little bit more, but because it is I’m willing to hand-sand the complex turnings to try to get the awful stains off that someone once put on it.

So heirloom isn’t just about the furniture, it’s also about the process of showing those who’ll have this furniture what it means to the owner, and educating them on how to maintain it.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4176 days

#12 posted 07-04-2007 01:02 AM

Interesting topic, Mark.

I like Dan’s comments above.

I spent my working life in sales and marketing at all levels. I became very aware of the power of words. Frequently, these words were chosen because they conveyed a message, often a message that wasn’t fully understood but that contained a vague impression that comforted the customer. I suspect ”Heirloom Furniture” may be one such word.

I looked up to terms to see how the dictionary defined them.

antique” Belonging to, made in, or typical of an earlier period.

”heirloom” A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations. An article of personal property included in an inherited estate.

I suppose it is rather presumptuous of us to designate a piece of furniture as ”Heirloom Furniture” when, or before we make it. Only the passage of time can determine that. However, using the term as marketing spin probably makes some sense as long as it doesn’t become a meaningless hackneyed term used by everyone.

I wonder if combining ”Heirloom Furniture” with “Building Tomorrow’s Antiques Today” would work as a tag line?

”Heirloom Furniture – Building Tomorrow’s Antiques Today”

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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18615 posts in 4159 days

#13 posted 07-04-2007 01:04 AM

Building Tomorrow’s Heirlooms – Today

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3987 days

#14 posted 07-04-2007 02:48 AM

I consider the furniture that build to be heirloom quality. I build with the finest wood available and the best craftsmanship I can manage. It’s built the same or better quality as what was done in the “old days”. I know have looked at many antiques, and on places that don’t show they almost always use a lesser grade of wood.

I expect to pass what I build to my children. I expect it to last for generations to come.

At least that’s my opinion.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 4085 days

#15 posted 07-04-2007 03:02 AM

I think it is a highly overused term…. Taken literally it would mean that you are selling treasured family possesions. It seems like anything that anyone is trying to sell that is over 20 years old is getting tagged as heirloom, vintage, or antique. I realize you are trying to convey a sense of lasting value but I think its overuse has most folks immune to it.

Look at the woodworkers that have been very succesful. Their work is unique typically. Considered art, not just furniture. I think you need to find a niche that succesful people will covet. Applying words to your brochures and website may get some of the low hanging fruit but the truly disciminating clientelle will focus on the substance. If owning a DeCou is something they can brag to their friends about then you’ll have to beat them away with a stick (a nicely carved one no doubt).

Your work is extraordinary Mark. I think what you desire can only come to you if you develop a style or find that niche to call your own. Your Church work is a great door opener and a specialized niche. It could be what helps set you apart. Looking at your website you mention Arts and crafts, Sam Maloof, and George Nakashima as inspirations all in the 1st couple of paragraphs. The problem with that is that 100’s if not 1000’s of others are doing the same.

I also think you need to decide on a focus. Mixing fine furniture with powder horns on your website diminishes the furniture to everyone but the lover of beautiful powderhorns. Nakashima is known for his tables, Maloof for his chairs. I doubt Decou can be known for Fine Furniture, Walking Canes, Custom Knives, Scrimshaw Art, Toys, Puzzles, Folk-Art Carvings, Platters, Cups, Lathe Turnings, Welsh Love Spoons, Table Lamps, Wall Mirrors, Gun Stocks, Sculpture, Powder Horns, Nutcrackers, and a wide variety of different things. I guess you recognize most of that last sentence, it comes straight from your website.

I hope I don’t sound too critical Mark. I only know you through LJ but have come to respect both you and your work immensely. I sensed that you want the straight answer and not a watered down version. I don’t have a lot of money myself but know many that do. All the beautiful pieces in their homes, almost every one, comes from artisans that are known for that particular type of work. Be it a ships model, table, chair, turning, whatever…..most are focused.

I think success came to Maloof and Nakashima not because they built what they thought others would want but what they had a passion for. I don’t think the mystique can be created it just has to happen.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

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