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Precious pieces: Bring special meaning to your special day with heirlooms

When Franklin County Extension Director Katernia Cole-Coffey reflects on her Aug. 29, 2015, wedding, her memories are flooded with visions of the things that helped make her special day unforgettable – family heirlooms.

“It’s good to be able to have items that create a legacy,” explained Cole-Coffey. “It leaves a lasting or significant impression. Using that item helps the memory of that person live on, and it helps to connect the past with the present, past generations to the current generation.”

Incorporating precious heirlooms into your wedding day can be a great way to pay homage to the past as you begin your future together as a couple, Cole-Coffey noted. Sentimental items, like a great-grandmother’s handkerchief or string of pearls, can strengthen the emotions of the day and also provide “a great conversation piece,” Cole-Coffey added.

In her own wedding, Cole-Coffey found numerous ways to deck out the day with items of meaning from her family. With a mother who was an avid collector, Cole-Coffey found she had ready access to vintage cake stands, silver trays and curated serving pieces, as well as beautiful linens. Thinking back on that now makes Cole-Coffey think of her mother – which is an even more precious connection, since her mother passed away in 2017, following her father’s passing in 2016.

In addition to the serving pieces, Cole-Coffey’s heirlooms included a display of wedding ring quilts – some purchased, some made by her Grandmother Estella and Great-Aunt Ruth. A large arrangement of flowers was displayed in a ruffled hobnail cranberry glass bowl inside a silver bride’s basket. “It’s a very nice piece – a very elegant piece,” said Cole-Coffey. Brides using something like a bride’s basket – a traditional item dating back to the 1800s – will also be able to keep those memories alive by continuing to use the basket in the home following the wedding, whether as a fruit or candy bowl or to hold mail or serve as a catch-all. “It’s always good to have pieces that can provide double duty.”

Of course, there’s another side to the concept of using family heirlooms in one’s wedding, and that’s purchasing new items designed to become family heirlooms. Cole-Coffey chose Waterford crystal-esque toasting flutes she said she hopes will become heirlooms for future generations – a hope she also has for her headpiece.

Cole-Coffey said she has also attended weddings that made it a point to incorporate family heirlooms, from the friend who used family china – including holiday patterns – for her guests at her reception to the bride who wore her mother’s wedding dress for a special photo session. Other items well-suited to a wedding including family photographs, a broach, linens, jewelry or cuff links.

In addition to providing a link to the past, heirlooms can also serve as a way to cut costs. A bride who can use family china or serving pieces or a grandmother’s vase collection will save the expense of purchasing those items new.

Ultimately, however, using heirlooms is a way to honor those who have passed. “Using those items, I felt connected to them, even though they weren’t there,” Cole-Coffey said. “I knew that if they had been there, they would have enjoyed themselves and been supportive … The bottom line is, you need your family. That’s going to be your backbone.”