An introduction to Shabby Chic Furniture
Looking to fit out your house with worn but stylish furniture? Got an eye for creased fabrics, slipcovered furnishing, peeling paintwork, rugged textures and faded colours with lots of character? Interested in buying vintage pieces and quirky antiques that come with tears, stains and other signs of imperfection and use?
To some people, pieces showing signs of decay are fit only for the scrapyard or the garbage dump. Yet to seasoned veterans and admirers of the shabby chic style, the discovery of beauty in the old and worn discards of others – a process known as ‘upcycling’ – makes for a rich storehouse of treasures and is the pathway to a more ‘lived-in’, homely and sustainable environment.
Diving into this vintage style a little deeper…
What is Shabby Chic Furniture?
Steeped in the graceful, rustic charm of the time-worn and second-hand, Shabby Chic is a casual and cosy furniture style: blending the old with the new to create a visually appealing and inviting ambience for your home.
Conceived as a nostalgic merger of Old English interior design and continental country cottage-style décor, the style is typically more vintage than antique (note: however, there are some very appealing antique shabby chic items available on our site – such as the stunning French Armoire as featured above!).
The style has since evolved to encompass furniture, fabrics, and all manner of home accessories.
At a higher level, ‘shabby chic’ refers to any furniture and fittings showing signs of wear and tear or a patina consistent with age. The used look is thought to provide added character and charm. With its shunning of anything too polished, contemporary or flashy, as well as its rebellion against ‘mint-condition’ formality and flair for the eclectic, it is not hard to see why this look has proven so irresistible and become beloved to admirers the world over.
Renowned for its versatility and freedom from conventional boundaries, the style comes across as gentle, understated, serene, and eminently practical, embracive of a wide diversity of preferences. It is not limited to Georgian, Victorian or contemporary settings, or any particular era for that matter, and is thus suitable for many different kinds of architecture and interior design backdrops.
The history of Shabby Chic
First coming to prominence in the English countryside of the 1990s, Shabby Chic was, however, the brainchild of Rachel Ashwell and her Californian concept store, Shabby Chic Couture, which became famous for its signature slipcovers and handpicked flea market furniture.
In houses furnished with old and faded furniture – whether doors, armoires, tables, or nightstands – her style offered an alternative to the prevailing modernism: evoking an elegant and unpretentious antique appeal with modern accents, “shabby” (faded and dilapidated) and “chic” (elegant and stylish) in the same breath. In this way, as a style of interior furnishing, it reinvigorated vintage, previously-owned pieces and brought them back into the mainstream of homeware.
Checklist for buyers of Shabby Chic
- Look for the signs of Upcycled Furniture: go on the hunt for imperfect or flawed fixtures and fittings, such as antique chests of drawers, wicker lamps with torn weaving, faded flea market crystal chandeliers and mirrors, asymmetric or uneven china and armoires evidencing wear and tear.
- Buyer beware: there is an important – if at times fine and subjective – line between “trash and treasure”. Time-worn and weathered is highly desirable, but objects in a state of far too much disrepair could be aesthetically unappealing and ultimately more a burden than a benefit, particularly if you lack the time and resources for restoration work. This greatly depends on the individual item and the discerning value judgment of the buyer.
- Learn to spot authentic vintage pieces: It is important to distinguish something genuinely vintage from an item merely designed, retrospectively, to appear so. Analyse the object(s) for defects that are more random and chaotic than uniform in nature, and discolouration that is mutable or apparent in degrees. Paintwork that appears to be too finely stroked in single patches or deliberately frayed in certain defined areas, are paradigmatic examples of superficial aging, as opposed to genuine wear and tear with age. The value and style of a piece is found in natural aging, not in the manufactured illusion of a time-worn surfaces.
- The 4 Avoids: be wary of (1) pieces in need of serious restoration, (2) that are in a very delicate state of disrepair, (3) if repaint jobs would ruin or make them look counterfeit and (4) that are too perfect, or faux old pieces which lack authenticity.
- Look for licensed Shabby Chic products: these are sold in a variety of stores
- It is highly advantageous to find a good quality dealer, with the required knowledge and experience in the vintage market, who is selling items that have already been restored or judged to be of a high enough standard to count as ‘shabby chic’. You can find a vast range of such high-quality and fully vetted dealers on Hunt Vintage.
- Try and familiarize yourself with the market before going on the hunt, by reading guides like this one and browsing our collections, to compare and contrast
- You could also consider scouring a flea market, garage or estate sale to find shabby chic pieces. To get ahead of the crowd and maximize your opportunities, the best time to go to a market is when it first opens. If value for money is your key consideration, however, the close of day is preferrable for leveraging the best bargaining power from tired sellers’ anxious to dispense of their remaining wares. This can make them more open to offering discounted prices.
- For tables and chairs: Remember that the legs and fringes of a vanity, end table, or chair are useful markers of its real quality and age.
- Fabrics: whether vintage or new, or shabby chic, fabrics should always be of good quality, since high-quality fabrics endure for longer. Fabrics exuding shabby but chic are typically relaxed, not heavy but light-weight and loose-fitting, with natural fading (such as faded florals). Keep length and scale in mind when choosing fabrics. Insufficient breadth or size could minimize the chic and opulence of curtains on a dressed window, for example. Look in particular for linen, lace, crochet and wool for upholstery, pillows, table skirts, curtains, throws, and blankets to keep the space appearing laid-back and cosy.
- Add flowers, floral appliqués and representations (i.e. oil and watercolour paintings) to complete your shabby chic home: this canbring a sense of the countryside, natural irregularity, delicate beauty and mood enhancement to the mix. Indoor plants and bouquets can give off a pastoral feel inside the home. Rely on vases, such as chinoiserie vases, with eye-catchingly irregular details, such as old ones that come with cracks and chips owing to the vagaries of time and use.
- Use candles and other sources of natural light: this can be used to give off that warm, calming glow. Dripping wax from a candle is part and parcel of its shabby appeal and should help to give your space a more lived-in atmosphere.
- Use wood: Hold onto, or augment your living space with, a variety of wooden accents to lend your house that rustic air that is so associated with the rural origins of the shabby chic style
Start the Hunt for Shabby Chic furniture
Now that you’ve learned the basics, we invite you to browse our Shabby Chic furniture collection and Hunt Vintage.