Heirloom Thoughts

What makes an heirloom ? provenance? price? quality? or family line,  love and memories?  Prior to this post ‘heirloom’ echoed with Mitford meeds Devonshire associations of inherited privilege.  But then I saw a article which caught my imagination, made me pause and retrace my pride and prejudice.


The Weekend Telegraph interviewed 3 women about ‘heirlooms past and future’  focusing on an inherited piece which they  treasure and a piece they have bought which is a  future ‘heirloom’, by photographing them with the 2 pieces, it encapsulates past, present and future.

It was Polly Devlin (above) who really caught my eye sitting on her heirloom trunk wearing her future heirloom necklace.    Polly worked with Cecil Beaton in 60’s Vogue becoming friends, when Cecil left the much admired trunk to her in his will, she was surprised and thrilled.  The trunk was once Nancy Cunard’s, the chicest of the shipping magnate heiresses, a vibrant society figure in the 20’s and of course well known by Cecil.

Nancy Cunard

 Nancy sketched and ‘set up’ by Cecil was famed for her boho jewellery.

But maybe she should also be remembered for her travelling style? the trunks were emblazoned with bold  blue stripes to help her identify them amongst the sea of Vuitton luggage travelling first class.

It’s now sitting pretty, soft oriental carpets underneath, framed by georgian brown furniture,  fab paintings,  elegant Bagués lights with chic mirrored accessories.  I love  the complementary blue Polly’s wearing with a peek of leopard print and Nancy Cunard style bracelets.   Appropriately her heirloom is the large scale necklace by… Louis Vouitton, so it just remains for her to choose one of her 3 daughters to receive her heirloom. Tough Call.

So it all made me think, what do I consider an heirloom?

I think an heirloom speaks of permanence, family and friendship ties across generations, there is a talismanic quality to these pieces, they become imbued with the spirit of past owners and the stories of their journey to the current owner/carer/wearer.    My mother chose a painting of her mother, of no value as such – apart from sentimental, as her ‘heirloom’. Here’s hoping that ‘mother and daughter’, painted this Spring, is similarly valued by my  daughter in later life.

juliet and lyra j




Original article and photograph in Saturday Telegraph March 15th.

Nancy Cunard in Cecil Beaton’s Sketchbook

Painting by Blaise Smith.



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