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Shabby chic refers to a type of design and decorating style that incorporates using furniture, sofas and pieces of art from older design periods, specifically ones that look a little bit worn, in order to create a pleasingly aged but elegant design scheme. Designer Rachel Ashwell coined the term in the mid 1980s, and has partnered with Target® to create an inexpensive line of furniture that expresses this design scheme. The furniture can draw on a number of different historical design periods, including 1800s country French, Shaker designs, and many others. Most pieces are meant to look as though they are old and worn and have perhaps been handed down for several generations.
To accompany furniture, shabby chic also usually features a wide variety of wallpapers, wall hangings, paintings, and linens that imitate this sense that things are old. One of the principle means of making things look older is to bleach or distress fabrics. Linens should appear worn, though they are not, and especially new linens should be as durable as those not prepared in the shabby chic style. Buying worn looking linens is somewhat comparable to people buying new clothing that has been artfully ripped, torn or stonewashed to appear older.
Some purists suggest that true shabby chic should be just that, items of furniture and linens that are old. They might perhaps be inherited pieces from relatives, or things gleaned from good yard sales and auctions. In this form of design, little imperfections, like a scratch on a cedar chest or dining room table are seen as bonuses instead of as tragedies.
There is a very funny episode of Friends called The One with The Apothecary Table, first airing in 2000, in which Rachel attempts to imitate the shabby chic style by buying pieces of furniture like an apothecary table from Pottery Barn®. She pretends she’s found these items at a flea market to appease her roommate Phoebe who irrationally detests the store. Phoebe ultimately finds out that the items are in fact new, and falls in love with a few Pottery Barn items too. The episode stresses the irony of this design philosophy but also its appeal. Though the furniture Rachel buys looks old and full of character, it is in fact mass-produced. Yet it’s still quite attractive, creating a great design look in a home.
Shabby chic can be a great style to imitate in home décor for those on a limited budget, or for families who have small children or animals that might not be too kind to furniture. Pieces don’t have to match, and flea market items or estate sale items are just as chic, perhaps even more so, than brand new distressed furniture. Further, any damages to furniture by exuberant kids or animals may actually augment your shabby chic design scheme instead of marring it.
In my opinion, shabby chic works best in small doses. Also, flea markets and thrift stores are the best for finding one of a kind decor items.