Heirlooms, Going Hip

Brooklyn designers the Hovey sisters reveal how to make granny's decor glam again

May 17, 2013

Hollister and Porter Hovey’s grandmother’s house handily blends heirlooms and modern pieces.

New York interior designers/sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey are in their 30s. But they love to mix antique French chairs, taxidermied birds, oil paintings of ancestors and other signs of the past into their shared Brooklyn home and those of their clients. They show off their Victoriana-gone-millennial approach on their popular blog, Hollisterhovey.blogspot.com, and in a new book,“Heirloom Modern” ($50, Rizzoli). We caught up with the sibs about how to decorate with antiques without turning your condo into Grandma’s lair.

EXPRESS: A lot of young people want to ditch their parents’ decor style, but you guys embrace older things. Why?
Hollister Hovey: Port and I were lucky because our parents had tastes very similar to ours. But I also think the idea of decorating with heirlooms helps show off your own life: No one exists just in the present. Say you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s; that brought you to where you are now. And so, just layer in things that represent the best of those memories.

EXPRESS: How can I decorate with antiques but not have a fussy space?
HH: Well, single-generation decor is sort of boring to me. No one really lives on the “Mad Men” set. Eclectic is the way to go. Put in one or two things that belonged to your grandparents. Take an old chair of your parents’ and cover it in great fabric.

EXPRESS: What about people who don’t have family pieces — how can they personalize a space?
Porter Hovey: For our clients, we start by asking them questions about their favorite vacation, their favorite moment with their parents, etc. It’s a fun exercise to do, because it jogs your memory. And often, from that, you’ll get ideas like, say you loved baseball as a kid, maybe you frame an antique baseball card and put it in a corner.

EXPRESS: Why has the vintage look become so popular in recent years?
PH: I think we’re in an era when people want things that are authentic. They don’t want something that doesn’t last.

HH: Yeah, I think big-box stores became so ubiquitous. And I don’t think anyone wants to live in an all-Ikea or all-Restoration Hardware home.

EXPRESS: What about collecting? Any tips on finding something to collect that’s also good decor?
HH: I think whatever you collect needs to be honestly important to you and not something like Garbage Pail Kids or Beanie Babies that you’re doing for money.

EXPRESS: What’s the key to displaying vintage or antique items without creating a “Hoarders” set?
HH: Put things with opposites, like straight with curvy or shiny with matte. It makes things look interesting to the eye.

PH: Or do something unexpected. I have a friend who is a total minimalist with nothing in his apartment. But he’s got this one bright, fluorescent elephant, a good luck charm his parents got him in India.

HH: And one subject in our book, Angus Trumble, decorated his dining room with family portraits, which is an immediate conversation starter.

EXPRESS: You famously like taxidermy, which can be controversial. Want to defend it?
HH: At this point, the single deer head has reached its peak.

PH: But I like to remind people that all of our taxidermy is vintage — we don’t go out and shoot the animals! And I think having them can be a tribute to the animal and the life it lived.

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