proposal; the heirloom


I am going to design a collection of furniture that surrounds, challenges and engages with the evolving concept of the heirloom in contemporary design practices. The traditional definition of the heirloom is “an object of value that is handed down from one generation to another”. Building on this definition, my thesis will examine the “heirloom” as a design approach that both seeks to make meaning from the past and re-imagines the future.

The heirloom goes through a dynamic process as an object or place from a memory that is remembered, preserved, re-envisioned, and reconstituted within a contemporary space. Meaning exists in the object, and is as well is placed on the object from the “heir” which serves as a highly personal, curated, relic of one’s lineage. These objects build narratives around ones past and serve as identity anchor in which you place your own value on selected objects or places. In a moment where the world has designed its own self-destruction there is an obvious tension inherent in the heirloom; how do we conceptualize past objects for the contemporary moment.

The heirloom as a concept or a specific material (e.g. heirloom quilt) is embedded in craftwork; intergenerational symbolism, and portrayal of skill, presence of the “hand”, and meaning. The heirloom is an object that relates to handicraft- it has a history, knowledge, and a story- that can some degree can be read in its visual qualities. As a designer, the concept of the heirloom is typically central to one’s philosophy of making objects (ie. made to last). But how they will these objects evolve into the lives of the future generation?

I am specifically interested in the heirloom as it relates to selective imagination that gives individuals a sense of stability and connectedness. Heirlooms are largely constructs of the past, stand in for memories, narratives and who we think we are and want to be. I plan to draw on my own past heirlooms, artefacts and memories in the examination of object hood. As well as explore how we make meaning from materiality- the quality, textile, color, “essence”.