The term Shabby Chic seems to be everywhere. There are thousands of shabby chic items on eBay and scouring flea markets and garage sales has become a national pastime. The concept, however, began in the mid-1990s when British designer, Rachel Ashwell, opened a Santa Monica boutique that reflected her design style and called it “Shabby Chic.” She has since turned the concept into a cottage industry, with books, television shows, and a signature product line. Simply put, Shabby Chic style seeks to find the elegance and romance inherent in “not-so-new” furniture and accessories and to combine them in new and unexpected ways. It’s a comfortable style that encourages children and guests to use a room, not simply observe it. Shabby Chic doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, almost by definition, it is not perfect. It is, however, stylish and fun.
Shabby Chic draws its inspiration from the flea markets of Europe. Such treasure troves as the Clignancourt Market in Paris and Portabello Road in London are filled with discarded architectural items, such as window frames and finials, as well as old furniture, such as armoires, vanities, and chests. The Shabby Chic charm in these items lies in their past and their history. Scratches and peeling paint are ok. In fact, they are encouraged.
Shabby Chic reflects the practical and ecology-minded views of the 21st century. By finding new uses for “old” items, we keep from adding to the mountains of items sent to the landfill each year. What’s more, no tree has to be sacrificed for a found, Shabby Chic furniture treasure.
Expect the Unexpected
Shabby Chic is all about finding new and interesting ways to use “old” items. For instance, a stack of suitcases might become a side table. Salvaged doors might be put together to form a stylish room divider, perhaps with mirrors added for interest. An old window frame might find new life as a picture or mirror frame, and old tin ceiling tiles are interesting when assembled as candleholders, boxes, and flowerpots. Architectural hardware, such as glass doorknobs, and decorative pieces, such as salvaged wooden cornices, are reborn when added to refurbished flea market finds.
Shabby Chic Furniture
There is no one furniture style in Shabby Chic design. The common denominator is old, interesting, and comfortable. Armoires are popular, but often are unused in non-traditional ways, such as for a bar, a linen closet, or an entertainment center. Shabby Chic furniture should complement each other in style, color, or line, but it doesn’t have to match. In fact, it shouldn’t match too closely or look like it was created together. Shabby Chic is a work in progress, not a pre-fabricated look.
Slipcovered sofas and over-stuffed chairs, often with a natural muslin covering, are a hallmark of Shabby Chic, as are vintage Chintz floral prints, and are reminiscent of an English country garden. Ottomans, perhaps refurbished with a fringed fabric skirt, add a little romance to a furniture grouping.
Bring the Outdoors In
Gardens and garden rooms are important to successful Shabby Chic décor. In addition to floral fabric patterns, rusty iron garden and benches and ornaments find new life, both inside and out. Old decorative fence finials, in such shapes as pineapples and fleur de lis, make interesting bookends, paperweights, and garden markers. Flea market finds, such as old wooden drawers or antique watering cans, can be potted with flowers and plants for an interesting, unexpected look.
The colors and textures of Shabby Chic
Liberal use of white and off-white tones gives the found art of Shabby Chic a fresh feel. Celery green, reflecting Shabby Chic’s garden emphasis is another popular hue. This soft color is used to paint furniture, for window treatments, or as an accent color. Stenciling and hand-painted items further add to Shabby Chic’s romantic look and can transform a garage sale reject into an original work of art.
Shabby Chic’s garden motif is further carried inside with pretty floral patterns on tablecloths, pillows, and upholstery. Blending patterns and textures gives a Shabby Chic room a slightly offbeat, yet coordinated look. Fringe is frequently used to add interest to tablecloth hems, pillows, bed skirts, and window treatments.
Bringing It all Together
Shabby Chic relies on accessories to add personality and warmth to a room. Groupings of items, such as candles, fresh flowers, and framed pictures add romance and elegance to a room. Vintage tableware, usually mismatched, and such found items as a china teapot, further enhance the look.
Lighting is important for the romantic, soft feel of Shabby Chic. Subdued, indirect lighting, with candles and shaded lamps, helps to create this effect. Chandeliers, often in distressed iron, are another Shabby Chic hallmark. Frequently the bulbs are shaded to soften the look and give the fixture a country feel.
Shabby Chic has the cozy feel of your grandmother’s attic. It’s a nostalgic, homey, and comfortable style that envelops you and welcomes you to sit and stay a while. Shabby Chic doesn’t have to be expensive. Adding a little Shabby Chic is fun, stylish, and affordable and only limited by your imagination.