At least once or twice per week a client will call me to ask about restoring a family heirloom. Over the years I have learned what turns a piece of junk into a precious a family heirloom and it is not how much was paid for the item! What makes a family heirloom is one of these three things:
1. It was passed down from a loved one, family or friend. (But this is not the most important part)
2. It has a beautiful memory attached to it.
3. It has a story attached to it.
I would say that most of the furniture that is brought to me to restore for the purpose of becoming a family heirloom in worth nothing in terms of money and could not be sold on Craig's list for $100. Most of it would be considered trash or junk by anyone other than the owner. I will give you an example of what makes a great family heirloom.
Debbie, inherited a hope chest that was passed down from her grandmother. Her grandmother, when she was a little girl, was given 1 acre of land, as were all the children in her family, to farm in order to make spending money. Her grandmother grew cotton one year and use the money to buy this hope chest. Unfortunately I do not have photos of this hope just.
I recommended to Debbie that she write down the story or carve it into the bottom of the hope chest so that this precious memory would not get lost over generations. If the story was never passed down then that hope chest would just be a worthless piece of junk. Your family heirloom could be the story of how you are rocked in a cradle or a rocking chair, or how a porch swing was used when your grandmother told you stories with her arm around you. The story only has to be important to one person, you.
The 2 photos below show an old oak dresser and mirror that was taken out of the barn where she used to play as a child on her grandparents farm. When this lady was a little girl this piece oak bureau was in the house where she stayed with her grandparents.