I Just Inherited All Of My Granny’s Hideously Dated Living Room Furniture

Dear Laurel,

Ya know life is so difficult sometimes. My grandmother passed away 3 years ago at the age of 97 and then my mom just died last month. It was a sudden thing and I’m lost without her. She was my best friend.

On top of it all, my husband and I have been renovating our home for over six months. It’s winding down, but I’m exhausted and seriously have nothing left. I mean, don’t worry about me. I’m okay. My husband is a doll– works long hours. Our kids are in college now.

What’s the problem aside from just about everyone I’ve ever cared about dying on me? Well, when Gran passed, my mom inherited all of her furniture.

My dad died when I was four. Apparently, he had undiagnosed narcolepsy and yeah… he was in the car when it careened down a deep ravine. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. My poor mom. Rough go of it…

Our family is tiny.

Mom’s brother is in prison for embezzling funds from his clients. And my sister is a nun who helps run a home for Somalian orphans– uh, in Somalia.

Yeah, I know… pretty crazy isn’t it? I don’t know why I’m sharing all of this with you. Okay, here it is. I imagine that you can already guess what I’m going to say next.

It’s Gran’s furniture. Oh, I love my granny so much; loved visiting her. She would shtoop me with the most delicious pies and cookies and all of it home-made. Those were in the days before being forbidden to eat wheat, soy, dairy, butter, sugar, eggs and peanuts! And ya know… no weight problems back in the seventies!

What is wrong with me??? Sorry for the rambling…

It’s just her furniture— That’s the problem.


It’s the horribly dated living room furniture and it’s all mine!


Sure, I could sell some of it, but I don’t want to. I don’t know what to do about it. Maybe there’s something else I can do? I really would like to keep some of the pieces but they are so gosh durned fuddy-duddy. Oh gosh—Little ditzy flowers and mahogany for days!

I imagine that others have this dilemma too?

Thanks so much Laurel!

Barb Brake-Frunt




Well, as most of you know, Barb is a fictional character, but you know… the truth is stranger…

What isn’t fictional is her dilemma. In fact, it’s one I’ve encountered in my practice numerous times.


Dated living room furniture!


To be clear, dated is not necessarily the same thing as vintage or antique.


But some vintage and antique pieces feel out-of-place in our contemporary interiors. Or, they are in rough shape or something isn’t working.

Over the years, whenever I encountered this situation, we always found a place for the items and we made it work.

And oh man, I just spent I don’t know how long looking for a photo of a settee I had remade for a client about 12 years ago. It was her grandmother’s and then her mother’s and it is Victorian and her home is super contemporary.

We put this cool velvet stripe on it and it lived very happily in a little den area in her kitchen.


So, let’s jump in and discuss Barb’s situation.


Most of the time, my clients had a few pieces we incorporated, not entire home full of old furniture they had no interest in.

But if Barb was my client, I’d probably advise her to keep some of the most special pieces that we could make work, and perhaps give the rest to charity.

Not knowing what she has, I’m going to go over some ways to update your dated living room furniture.


Going back to the notion of old vs. dated.


A tiny vignette from one of Furlow Gatewood’s living rooms shows gorgeous antiques that feel fresh and current. Image by Rodney Collins.


Let’s begin with the upholstered pieces.


My grandmother in Chicago had a settee almost exactly like this.

Yup. A classic tufted butterfly thing-a-jobby.

At least that’s how I remember it looking some fifty years later.

This one is from Chairish but is no longer available.

But I have been obsessed with that living on that site recently.


A similar settee and an after shot from the wonderful site Chairloom, not to be confused with Chairish.

In a fresh new blue linen, the piece is almost looking contemporary!

Another astonishing makeover from Chairloom.

I’m pretty sure that the cool fabric is from Timorous Beasties.

dated living room furniture

And above is the classic “Granny sofa” again from Chairloom.

And below, it’s looking like Gran went to Canyon Ranch and then got a whole new wardrobe at Barney’s. lol

Another Chairloom Granny sofa before and after.

dated living room furniture

Wow! They took what is actually a classic Lawson sofa, took off the back cushions and the skirt.

Gave it a new upholstery job and it’s looking like a completely different piece of furniture.


Taking off the skirt to expose the legs is something I’ve done numerous times.


If the legs are good, it’s a great way to update a sofa or chair and lighten things up.


Another way to update a sofa or chair if you’d like to keep the skirt is do either a very tall skirt or a water fall-style skirt.

The short skirt above makes the chair look dated. Will the short skirts come back in style?

I don’t know. They’ve been out of style for at least the last 25 years. I don’t think that they’re coming back.

Above is the Serena and Lily Jameson sofa with a waterfall skirt.


For those of you who own the Laurel Home Paint Collection bundle, you may recognize the chair on the right. It appears in about 3 or 4 boards because I adore it to bits. And yes, this is the same chair as the one on the left. The lesson here and it’s a good one is that if there’s something you don’t like about a piece, in terms of upholstery, it can often be changed.

For this piece, they moved the legs over to the traditional position and changed the back cushions.

It now has a less mid-century look.

Here is a beautifully upholstered Chippendale style sofa with fretwork legs from Chairish.

(sorry, it’s no longer available)

You can also have a tailored slip cover made for sofas like these which also removes some of the formality.


Here are some other old-fashioned sofas that feel positively modern/contemporary.


Julia Engel – Gal Meets Glam


That sure is one long drink of cool, don’t you think?


Why keeps this from looking dated?


I think that a lot of it or maybe all of it has to do with context.

It’s the other pieces surrounding it. The white walls, the sleek Parson’s coffee table…

Sleek and chic.

Above a French settee reupholstered in white cotton and below it’s in a fabulous urbane room setting.  What’s interesting here, is that all of this furniture is from a company called Rent Patina that rents these pieces out. It could be for a special event, but they also rent out for photo shoots, films, etc.



Scouted Home

How gorgeous is this antique settee upholstered in two fabrics.

These blue batik fabrics are very hot right now. Is it a trend?

Yes, it is. Is it a bad trend? No, and if it’s just pillows or something like this and you love it, then why not?

A pretty French vignette from Rue Magazine – photo by Jen Altman

Coincidentally, I found some similar lamps on Chairish.

*More about that at the bottom of the post.


Fabulous sofa upholstered in a natural linen by Nancy Fishelson


Beautiful vintage flame mahogany breakfront from English Classics.

They are selling on Etsy. They made a custom painted breakfront for a client of mine several years ago. (below)

I wrote a brief post about it.

Here’s a smaller version by Holly Mathis and beautifully photographed by Becki Griffin.

I love how painting formal pieces like this knocks back the formality.

And please notice the lovely linen slipcover on the wing chair. These are great ways to update old-fashioned pieces of furniture.


Of course, I realize that some pieces should not be painted.


But I dunno. If you want to see paint and it’s not a priceless antique, does it really matter? Isn’t life too short to get hung up on stuff like that? If you feel that life isn’t too short to get hung up on stuff like that, that’s okay too. You are allowed to NOT paint your furniture! :]


And one last beautiful image by Holly Mathis and again photographed by Becki Griffin who’s also a designer. These girls are so talented!

Oh, how I love this room. It has beautiful bones. And yes high ceilings. (I know that some of you are groaning because you want to see more eight-footers.)

But one of the reasons I am posting this, is because see that sofa with a slip cover on it? Could this be Gran’s fuddy duddy hideously dated piece underneath? It probably is not, but it could be.

For more about slipcovers, please look at this post that goes into more detail.

But, the entire space is so light and airy, not pretentious, but also quite stylish.

Whew! That was a lot and I didn’t even post half of my photos!  Well, there’s always another time.


*Some of you know this already, if you are interested,

there are two groupings of gorgeous stuff I found on sale this week.


I combed the marketplace to separate the home furnishings wheat from the chaff.


The first grouping is new stuff– on sale and the second one is all one-of-a-kind and either vintage or antique– also on sale. You can see it all by clicking here or if you go up to the menu it’s under HOT SALES.


The plan is to update this page regularly, usually on Friday or Saturday.



47 Responses

  1. Who knew that in addition to your many talents – you’re also a MIND-READER?! I recently had some living room furniture re-upholstered and realized that my blue and white porcelain pieces didn’t “match” anymore. Then, you assured us that it goes with everything! And now, this post about updating old furniture. I recovered my 27-year-old Chippendale camel back sofa and two vintage (1963) channel-back chairs in a beautiful creamy ivory. I love them so much! I suppose some people would claim that Chippendale is “dated” – well, yeah! Thank you, thank you!

    1. Hi Gail,

      Saying that Chippendale is dated is like saying that the White House is dated, or the Mona Lisa is dated. (eyes rolling). But good for you. Hang on for tonight’s post focusing on the dining room.

  2. Hi Laurel,
    Great post. What about the dining room????
    I have my mom’s DR furniture, dated but solid cherry. What to do?
    Thanks for your blog, I really love it.

    1. I will tackle the dining room for Wednesday. I was going to include a few things but it was too much for one post. As usual, I tend to bite off way more than I can chew or swallow. But nothing goes to waste.

  3. Hi Laurel:

    I LOVED this post! One of my greatest decorating successes involved remaking a pair of my grandmother’s chairs: Originally tufted and upholstered in a stodgy (and eventually very faded) blue-gray silk, I had them reupholstered in a pale yellow flame stitch and had the brown wood painted a sleek black. The best compliment was my very cool 30something niece-in-law raved about them and said, “Where did you GET these?” Um, that would be a long-defunct Brooklyn department store called Loeser’s…

    I’m now looking to remake a Begere chairs from my grandmother – thanks for all the inspiration!

  4. Hi Laurel,

    I love the photo from Scouted Home of the antique settee in two fabrics – very bohemian! I could totally see it as a brand new piece from Anthropologie. I have toyed with the idea doing something similar in my formal living room. Every time I see an antique settee on Craig’s or in a thrift shop, I am so tempted to purchase and recover it. Thanks for the great post and all the pretty examples!

  5. I’m a granny who reupholstered my own old fuddy-duddy sofa and loveseat (1980s Vanguard), getting rid of the flowers and the skirts. They have beautiful cured backs and nice legs, and now the pieces look both traditional and contemporary at the same time. Hint: do not do a sofa and loveseat in the same colors. Mine are two different shades of green.

    Older furniture is more likely to be well-made. Re-upholstery gets you just the colors and patterns you like for less than you would pay retail for a new item of the same quality.

  6. Oh my, I have had so much beautiful and ugly furniture turned over to me. I finally realized ALL old furniture probably belonged to a grandmother and why not honor what I like and let someone else honor the stuff I don’t like?? I keep the marble top table and you can have the butterfly Victorian settee.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      I think that giving stuff that doesn’t suit to charity is a win-win. I’ve often recommended that to clients who love the idea. But, sometimes, pieces can be resurrected and updated. Lots I didn’t show because the post is already pretty long.

  7. I really enjoyed this post and seeing things find new life. When we bought our house, the previous owner had a settee in the basement similar to the one from Chairloom with the Timorous Beasties’ fabric, except it was tufted. He was just going to give. it to Goodwill but left it to me, instead. Can you give me a ballpark figure of what it might cost to upholster it? That’s if I provide the fabric and refinish the frame myself. I live on the East coast.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      The east coast is a very large area. And I don’t know if it needs any additional work to the reupholstery. I would get some quotes in your area.

  8. Hi Laurel,

    I love the tip about removing the skirt on a dated sofa. I’m on the (Craigslist) hunt now to find a sofa skirt do a strip-tease. Next re-upholster, deck out with some Flying Tack pillows and Hello new room!

    Flying Tack

  9. Hello! Love love this post! My favorite thing to do is find “fuddy-duddy” things on Craigslist and make them fabulous! I noticed a few One Kings Lane items on the sale page, are they having a sale I’m missing? The items looked full price.

    1. Hi Olivia,

      That is a very good question and I had the same one. The items that don’t look like they are on sale (because they don’t have a retail price crossed out) are on the newly marked down section and none of them have the original price. I’m not sure if that’s an oversight or what the deal is. I am trusting that they are there because they are marked down from what they normally are.

      1. Okay that’s helpful thank you! Do you have any idea when they’ll have a percentage off sale?

        1. Sorry, I don’t have any information about that, but I also don’t recall that they do precise percentage off sales on One Kings Lane. Not sure.

  10. Semi related- I inherited a lot of rugs from my godparents ( foreign service posting), and don’t know the rules for layering them.
    Like size over size, and what about a calf skin or floating?
    We have wool sisal and jute rugs as our base, but so confused about how to avoid the “where running a garage sale in here” look.

    Thanks for all your wonderful advice! You are the best!!

    1. Hi Babette,

      I did do a post about layering rugs somewhere here. There needs to be at least one foot on the two short sides and there can be more on the long side.

      I don’t do animal skins.

      Not having it look like a garage sale is the art of decorating. I try to post what I think are excellent examples of designers who are brilliant at it.

  11. laurel, this post is SO inspiring! only issue that I have seen (at least in my local area) is that good upholstery shops are closing down! i hope it doesn’t become a lost art due to cheap, foreign imports…

  12. Just in time! 🙂 I have some old fashioned chairs I am going to update. Thank you for the great post Laurel!

  13. Loved this post. I inherited Hepplewhite dining room furniture 40 years ago – breakfront and buffet. I have wanted to paint them for a long time, but then I chicken out. We have a beautiful matched burled walnut table, and four antique Queen Anne chairs, six reproduction Chippendale chairs. The room has been painted BM Buttered Yam (love it), White Dove trim, sisal rug, and blue and white accessories. If I paint only one piece does it look lopsided? The pieces are on opposite sides of the room. If I paint both pieces does it look too matchy? I have considered just painting the inside of the breakfront which seems the safest thing to do. I feel paralyzed.

    1. Oh Joanne,

      I can’t advise you on this without seeing everything and I’m not doing that. I didn’t get to dining rooms. But I love painting the chairs differently. I’m sorry, I wish I could do more, but it’s impossible.

      1. I have serious house envy on this one! Doesn’t help that it’s just over the hill from me! I saw pieces of furniture in this home that some would label dated or fuddy-duddy but this homeowner incorporated beautifully.

  14. Laurel, I love your posts but this one on updating Granny’s furniture is especially fabulous! Gives me inspiration … and courage!

  15. Hi Laurel,
    Thank you for your usual great post. I recent years it has become quite fashionable in France to overpaint “brown” furniture white. I cannot help but think that future generations would value solid wood furniture. A practice from victorian times may be just the trick to preserving the wood underneath. The Painters of walls in those times, would paint an “isolating coat” of natural shellac to allow for mistakes in decorative finishes to be removed without disturbing the paint underneath. If this were done on mahogany furniture, the overpainting could easily be removed without damaging the grain of the mahogany with white or other paint, when fashion dictates that “brown furniture” is due a comeback.

    1. Hi Carole,

      That’s very interesting. I have never heard of that but it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think that brown furniture will every go away completely. I like a mix of both painted and stained.

    2. I have always wanted to know if there was a way to protect the wood on a piece of furnitue while changing over to paint. I was without an answer to that question until I read your viewer comment. Thank you Carole Baker for volunteering that! I might never had known.

      Love this Newsletter

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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