Shabby Chic On A Budget
It’s everywhere. Soft white linens, white washed (and now shell pink washed) furniture. Chintz and faded florals. Repurposed architectural salvage. Lace and embroidery.
Ever since Rachel Ashwell coined the phrase Shabby Chic to describe an interior design style that combines the look of well worn and well loved furniture and textiles with unabashedly feminine touches like lace and needlework, boutiques and chain stores alike have scrambled to offer new items designed to look like they came from your grandmother’s country house.
Unfortunately, the prices on these lovely reproductions are anything but old-fashioned. A local boutique is selling new shabby chic-style tea towels for $25 each. A white washed chair is priced at $225, and a pink-hued bedside lamp is listed at $175. An online catalog offers pre-faded floral bed linens for a mere $300 for a twin sized comforter, with matching shams available for $80 a pair.
As lovely as these products are, for many fans of the shabby chic look these prices are simply too high. Fortunately, the very nature of shabby chic means that you can get the same look for a fraction of the price of boutique offerings if you’re willing to do a bit of careful shopping and learn some simple refinishing techniques.
Shabby Chic On A Budget - Start With The Background
If you browse through any of Rachel Ashwell’s books or articles, you’ll see that the walls are painted or papered in soft colors…whites, creams, pale pastels (especially pinks, blues and greens), or even soft grays. Get your shabby chic room started with a fresh coat of paint in a soft hue. If you select white, opt for a softer shade with some cream or pink overtones rather than a bright white.
Shop for the furniture
Shabby Chic is all about comfort and well-worn pieces. So shopping for furnishings doesn’t have to mean going to a pricy specialty store. Instead,
- Start by looking around your house for pieces that have the soft colors and fabrics typical of shabby chic. Is there a side table, arm chair or dresser you can pull out of another room (or maybe even the garage, attic or basement) that features a creamy finish or softly tinted upholstery? Bring the piece into the room and try it out. If it works, you have a cost-free start to your new shabby chic room.
- Make the rounds of your house again looking for furniture that has the lines of classic farmhouse, French country or old fashioned parlor furniture. Can these pieces be refinished in a softer color or recovered in a subtle floral fabric? Look carefully. Even an old 1950’s china cabinet or a set of 1970’s French provincial furniture can be transformed into a shabby chic masterpiece with the right finish. If so, set them aside while you gather the materials for the project.
- Make the rounds of your local thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales or tag sales. Look at the lines of the piece rather than the color, handles or original purpose. A bookshelf can become a place to display folded vintage quilts. A small kitchen table can be repurposed as a dressing table or desk. Most modern upholstered dining chairs can be repainted and easily reupholstered with a few yards of fabric and a staple gun. Don’t worry about choosing things that match…shabby chic is about blending. And once repainted in similar soft tones, even widely disparate pieces will usually look fine together.
- Shop the same thrift store and tag sales for fabric. Vintage curtains, tablecloths, bedspreads, sheets and even clothing can become upholstery fabric, or the covering for a pillow. Small pieces of lace, needlework or fancy work can be used as trim, shelf edging or the background in a shadow box. Don’t overlook lace collars or cuffs on otherwise unusable dresses or blouses. Vintage buttons off or on clothing can become trim for pillows or accents for small pieces of furniture.
- Look for shawls, throws, wraps or scarves to use as accents on chair backs, bed frames or dressers. Check your home first, then hit the tag sales and flea markets for inexpensive choices. Remember to keep your color palate in mind…soft, soothing shades or faded florals will coordinate with your “new” furnishings and paint.
- Browse local discount stores for fabric remnants, scratch and dent furniture you can easily refinish, inexpensive area rugs, throws and linens that complement your furniture. Visit your local home improvement store for antique-style knobs and drawer pulls in off- white, crystal or soft metallic finishes to replace bright brass, silver or modern-styled hardware on furnishings, doors and windows.
- Bring several small lamps into your room instead of using bright overhead lights. Or replace a modern fixture with a rewired yard sale or clearance rack chandelier painted a soft cream. Accent the fixture with loops of crystal beads or tiny lampshades for an immediate shabby chic look.
Once you have the basics, keep your eye out for accessories to decorate your new room. Framed vintage photos, collages created from ephemera, old skeleton keys, antique buttons and silk ribbon, or piles of softly covered pillows are just a few of the shabby chic touches you can add without spending much money.
Play with your new décor, adding and removing items, rearranging and trying new combinations until you get a look you like. The timeless look of shabby chic is all about comfort…so relax and enjoy your new shabby chic room.
About the author:
Lynn Richardson is a veteran of two complete house restorations, and the author of numerous articles on historical renovation, period decorating and life in an antique house. She works as a full time writer to support her antique house addiction.