Coined way back in the ’80s, the design term “shabby chic” evolved to become a massively popular trans-Atlantic brand. The expression first appeared in British glossy The World of Interiors and it has been credited to English interior designer, Rachel Ashwell.
Shabby chic teams British eccentricity with French elan — the country charms of an English cottage with the faded elegance of a French chateau.
Emerging from the relative opulence of the 1980s, when many interior design trends evolved from the splendour of English stately homes, shabby chic stood the test of time and even went global. After leaving the U.K. to go Stateside, its originator Rachel Ashwell opened her first Shabby Chic store in Santa Monica in 1989. As Oprah Winfrey says on her website, “Rachel Ashwell single-handedly turned shabby into chic and it caught on like wildfire!” In 2009, and twenty years after setting up her first home furnishings company, Ashwell’s brand filed for bankruptcy. So what of shabby chic now?
Revamp and recondition
Ashwell was soon opening a new store in New York to introduce her modern version of shabby chic. Its simpler lines are outlined in this Shelterpop article: Can Shabby Chic survive in modern times? Seems the design ethic was still alive and kicking — it was the business model that was in need of a makeover and this ingenious attitude is quintessential shabby chic. Revamp and recondition, mix and match, make do and mend. Shabby chic recycles vintage or reproduction items of furniture and objet d’arts and introduces them into a clean and uplifting environment with a natural, neutral palette. This now incorporates a simple or rustic design ethic, like the pared down American-Shaker look or 18th century Swedish paint finishes.
Sign of the times
Can shabby still be chic in hard times? By combing flea markets and charity shops, you can source well loved and vintage furniture and knick-knacks that lend themselves to a new lease of life. Paint finishes can be applied to suggest age — either by “distressing” the existing paint layers to show those underneath or by applying a paint finish that suggests wear and tear, like this — how to create a rustic distressed finish on new wood.
Recycle new from old
When money is thin on the ground it can only be good news that you can reuse and recycle. Team old with new or fresh and pretty florals with antique lace. Shabby chic is a peculiarly English invention and you can even use good old British tea to stain new linens and make them look “vintage.” After all, the organic nature of shabby chic is still sound today. Why throw out an old chair when you can paint it to look even older?