June 4, 2014

Shabby Chic: Love It or Hate It?

I was looking for some of the bone-handled cutlery I collect on eBay-UK and just about every other listing referred to what they were selling as Shabby Chic. Honestly, I just hate that term. It’s applied to every old, chipped, banged and dented piece that is really only shabby and completely lacking the chic.

Rachel Ashwell was the one who coined the term shabby chic, and this is how Wikipedia defines it:

Shabby chic is a form of interior design where furniture and furnishings are either chosen for their appearance of age and signs of wear and tear, or where new items are distressed to achieve the appearance of an antique. imageAt the same time, a soft, opulent, yet cottage-style decor, often with an affected feel, is emphasized to differentiate it from genuine period decor.

At the time Rachel Ashwell started Shabby Chic, it was fun and new. She created the look out of economic necessity and frugality. But when it migrated to Target and other mass-market venues, it was D.O.N.E. She is now marketing Shabby Chic Couture, just to take it one step further!

As I search Pinterest, I find things like this horror: imageThere’s nothing chic about it, it just looks shabby, especially with clothing hanging from the drawer, which doesn’t even look like it will close properly.

And then there’s the whole genre of things like this:imageIt is a chair with no legs, hanging from the wall being used as a shelf. I just don’t get it. And it’s been pinned almost 3,000 times, including by someone called “Kountry Kupboards”. Bad spelling seems to go hand-in-hand with shabby chic.

When I was on Nate Berkus the first time, the woman on before my segment was big into shabby chic.image Her husband hated it because the whole house looked like these images, with a massive dose of Paris- and Eiffel Tower-themed items thrown in.image

Ball/Mason jars also seem to have a large part in the shabby chic look.image

Each and every holiday and occasion seems to have its own shabby chic idea, and weddings seem to come in for the bulk of those. I’d be a little unhappy if anything about my wedding was described as shabby. Painting glass items and sanding them off appears to be a central motif.image

Anything that’s peeling is fair game to be called shabby chic.image

Burlap and twine are also major ingredients in the shabby chic oeuvre. imageimageimage

Clearly, the trend has jumped the shark when you see a microwave that’s been transformed into a shabby chic accessory.imageYes, I know I am being mean and bitchy. Yes, I know a lot of people love this look, but when every other item in the antiques section of eBay is referred to as shabby chic, I just want to tear my hair out! Most of what I see is hardly shabby, and it’s certainly not chic.

82 comments:

  1. Elizabeth SpeicherJune 5, 2014 at 1:52 AM

    I'm with you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. I HATE, HATE, HATE shabby, and it certainly is not chic.

      Delete
  2. I think shabby chic gives white slipcovers a bad name. I think shabby chic has mutated into something that obviously is beloved especially in Pinterest. It has become a warped version of what non French people think that people in Paris of the Cotswolds do. Parisians just don't wrap twine and burlap around everything and sprinkle everything with half paint then chip it off folks. PS not mean or bitchy at all to have a differing opinion I say!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have a problem with white slipcovers. I've spent lots of time in Paris and the Cotswolds, and you don't see anything like what is termed as shabby chic.

      Delete
  3. That was one hell of a rant. I hope it was therapeutic. I'm not a huge fan of shabby chic either, though I can appreciate it in small doses every now and again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just had to get it off my chest! It's inauthentic.

      Delete
  4. 'Vintage' has also gone the way of 'shabby-chic'. To me, both terms should be used for genuinely old or used items, not modern copies. I just hate modern vintage/shabby-chic. Try Googling or putting in 'Vintage French' into Ebay - most of the items are brand new. Drives me nuts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always use the bar-code test: if the original price tag has a bar-code on it, then it's not vintage, retro or antique.

      Delete
  5. Shabby chic is patina taken to a bizarre extreme. Natural wear can be attractive, and is often preferable to "restored" surfaces, especially when that involves keeping an original finish, but as always judgment is needed.

    Do you remember when items like these were called "Depression specials?"
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I heartily agree. You would never see natural wear like the blue chest at the top.

      Delete
  6. If you go to a real English (or Scottish) country house you will find the Country House look. The shabby chic ethos aspires to that, but it's so phoney. And as you examples show too, pretty ghastly. I'm afraid I'm not really a fan of either. In the first instance I can overcome my dislike because the people, like their interiors, are real. Why fake a "run down" look - it sounds barmy, essentially because it is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or Welsh! I had a friend who lived at the Home Farm on her family's property. Most of the furnishings were hand-me-downs, and although it was a little shabby, mostly it was well-worn. But you could tell that the pieces were all beautifully made from very good materials. It's real. It's authentic.

      Delete
  7. Oh God don't come to my house...everything I had was "gently used" before the cats moved in.....now it's shabby all right.

    We'll call it lived in, and loved.

    Yeah, every other wedding wants flowers in mason jars. I try to suggest a different look, but I'm always outvoted.

    Of course I use them at home as vases, BUT I always have.

    xo J

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lived in and loved and shabby chic are two different animals.

      And the mason jar thing? People are gonna regret that one!

      Delete
  8. Right on, Meg. I am going to have nightmares about that microwave.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just had to post a comment because I laughed so hard reading your piece this morning. The pictures alone are priceless! I just attended a large dinner this weekend where every table had a mason jar wrapped in burlap and twine with "field-grown flowers" jammed into them every which way. Oh the oohs and ahhs that emitted from the guests over those centerpieces! I cringe every time someone comes into my house and proclaims my decor as "eclectic" or "shabby chic" when it actually is just old family English and French antiques covered in Brunschwig and Scalamandre fabrics that several generations of corgis have worn down to a nice patina. I rue the day "shabby chic" entered the lexicon of American decorating terminology!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I rue that same day! Shabby was never a compliment!

      Delete
  10. I think all trends are susceptible to becoming caricatures of the original concept. For me, a more comfortable, well-used, well-loved look was a welcome antidote to the slick, hard, cold interiors of previous decades. I have chosen to live in old houses and love the look and feel of weathered and worn natural materials. I like the idea of re-purposing items instead of discarding them, and there are lots of good examples of that concept. You just featured one: using old tennis rackets to make bar accessories. Mass marketing and overexposure of the "shabby chic" concept has lead to some ridiculous extremes, but the underlying principles of the style are not dissimilar to cottage and traditional country decorating. Often my favorite interiors mix more precious antiques and heirlooms with things that are simply well-worn, but still useful. I think the rise of blogs, Pinterest, etc. have just inundated us with millions images of people's homes that would never have been featured in the more curated or edited design publications of the past. Growing up in suburbia in the 50s and 60s, I remember visiting plenty of houses with bad design-- from plastic lace-patterned tablecloths and melmac dishes to groovy fake-fur upholstered lounge chairs to hand-crocheted toilet paper covers. Yet today young people seem to adore "mid-century modern," including the avocado and gold and tangerine color schemes.There is still a class element to style and people do the best with what they have to make their homes comfortable for them. But now everyone's granny's and auntie's and neighbor's house is all over Pinterest. Maybe we should all take a break from posting and pinning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My critique is of a style taken to the extreme.

      Delete
  11. Right on, indeed. Oh, how my stomach turns. Brava, Meg!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Shabby ,chippy, it's all not good, especially when it is styled and staged!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A little bit might be okay, but a whole room or house is way too much!

      Delete
  13. Your pictures are worth a thousand words. I predict that someday the shabby chic matrons will look at their wedding and home pictures and say, "What was I thinking?"

    ReplyDelete
  14. PeptoBismol pink Mason jars! What were they thinking? Thanks for the laugh.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I like the comment from Maurie. Kind of like when I look at pictures of myself in the 80's!!! What was I thinking???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember in the 90's having some chippy pieces, but it wasn't the WHOLE room or house. Just accents.

      Delete
  16. Shabby chic to me is some of the "good old boys" playing golf at the most exclusive local club wearing button down blue oxford shirts with frayed collars and cuffs and dirty worn out kakis

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can see that. Old money isn't flashy.

      Delete
  17. I was temporarily seduced by the shabby chic design concept, and one day I was shopping at a second-hand store with my Mom, when I noticed a standing cupboard, with chipping and peeling blue paint. I turned to my Mom and said, "I love that cupboard, I think I'll buy it!" She looked at my with this incredulous stare and said, "Are you kidding?" I didn't buy it.....thank the Lord, because it would have found its way to a yard sale a few years later! Old can be good...........shabby.....never! I've finally grown up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I might have grown up, too. Remains to be seen though!

      Delete
  18. Lol. I loved this post. Thanks for calling it out.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Meg, Your feed seems to spin down very fast and I can't get it to stay in one spot long enough to read. Sorry!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Shabby chic, kountry klutter, rustic, (what's the difference between all of these???) - all it means to me is a bunch of dust-catchers that are hard to keep clean. No thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Misspelling seems to be a part of the shabby chic set.

      Delete
  21. Not my look at all Meg. I cannot even say the word either. Most of the furnishings I see of this genre need to be put out by the curb. The painted pieces I love are done with a lovely finish and very very light distressing.

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Naturally-occurring distressing is fine, but artificial isn't.

      Delete
  22. PS that microwave almost made me spurt my coffee this morning!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if the decoration interferes with the microwaves?

      Delete
  23. that microwave oven almost did me in, I am still laughing + hate is an awful word + shabby chic is a play on that word + great post. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks! love being your morning entertainment!

      Delete
  24. Mwahahahaha! Surely that microwave was intended as a snarky joke, right?! I think the weird partial chair planter looks kind of Daliesque. Toss a melted clock over the banister and call it Modern Shabby Chic!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Meg---great post and the comments are amazing, too.
    M

    ReplyDelete
  26. I laughed so much when reading this, thank you. I feel your pain. The chest of drawers is truly a horror, and the piece of cloth draped over the drawer looks as dirty as the drawers - yuck! I'm not sure what to say of the microwave so I suppose I should just stop now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The chest is really a horror, from the colour to the clothing hanging out from it.

      Delete
  27. Your description and photos of "shabby chic" were actually pretty on target! I never think of it as a style of design but more often as a fad. I get it--I don't want it, but I get it. It is what I call "precious decor" and what we often see in B&Bs. I'm going to try to insert a photo of what I love (but probably wouldn't want to live with)--the walls of the king's tutor's home in the movie, "The King's Speech." Layers of peeling wallpaper. I loved them and have never forgotten them. Just found I can't insert the photo but will try to put it as my posting picture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Annie... I did a piece on it when it came out! Click here

      Delete
  28. I would never go to the silly extremes you showed, but I'm sitting in my dining room looking at an old gilt mirror that's definitely shabby, and two Swedish painted chests (one from Loi's shop and the other equally expensive) that are both quite worn and I'm wondering if I've fallen victim to the trend. It's sad to see fine antique brown furniture ignored for painted and stripped pine pieces, some of which look like they sat forgotten in some Swedish out building for a few decades!
    Thanks for the post, Meg - something to think about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth, there's a huge difference between things that have aged naturally and have natural patina and something that's artifice. And if it's from Loi's shop, I am pretty bloody sure it's not shabby chic. Just gorgeous and elegant!

      Delete
  29. Good post Meg. I think the line is drawn between shabby and chic when the result is achieved through affectation or trying too hard. Ball jars, for example, have been around for centuries and are good for holding all kinds of useful stuff like tomatoes and strawberry jam and #2 pencils, and even candles on a picnic table. Painting them with neon brights does nothing to improve their beauty or effectiveness. I love white denim, linen or canvas slip covers too, but the addition of ribbons,or expensive floral trim, once again, defeats the purpose. Have a great weekend, xo, N.G.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nina! It is all about the affectation and it's about trying too hard. The houses I knew in England/Wales/Scotland/France didn't try at all. They evolved through time.

      Delete
  30. YES, YES, YES!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES, you love it? Or YES, you hate it?

      Delete
  31. Cringing. And trying to forget. Poor cabbage roses, what did they ever do to us?

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well, I guess I'm going to be the only one here who admits to sometimes actually liking this genre. I deal with decor the way I deal with people... one at a time. And I don't care what labels other people put on them. Most of the things that you posted photos of do not do anything for me... but I'm not going to deny that I have a table in my bedroom with worn paint that would probably be labeled (by someone who likes labels) as "shabby chic". But I love that specific table, and the specific way it looks where it is. I don't like every table that has chipped paint. Just that one. On the odd occasion, I have found wedding decorations involving burlap to be attractive in the particular setting they were being used. Does that mean I would coat everything I own in burlap? Of course not. I suppose I like to leave myself the wiggle room to like or dislike individual objects, rather than paint everything with a broad brush. My father, when he was alive, dubbed my interior decor as "Early Vincent Price"... lots of heavy, dark, carved wood, lots of dark red velvet. I still have all that, but it's now got many touches of what I'd call "World"... Asian/Buddhist pieces, Victorian bits and bobs, Scottish highlights, and vintage stuff - especially in the kitchen. By refusing to let my tastes be boxed in, I've developed a cottage full of interesting treasures of all shapes and sizes and styles that bring me delight every time I walk into a room. Everything has a story behind it - which makes it belong, even if it doesn't "match". I totally agree, however, that putting stickers on a modern appliance does NOT make it anything but hideous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear what you're saying, and agree. In small doses, it can be charming. One piece here or there, but not overdone like so much of what I see, and not everything that's old and chipped!

      Delete
  33. Elizabeth SpeicherJune 5, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    Meg, tell us what you really think. It is so refreshing to read an "the emperor has no clothes" essay. And so charmingly supplied with photo evidence. Now, what do you think of the Pinterest current trend of making everything and anything out of pallets?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a big fan of that! For a garden, maybe...anything else, not so fond of it!

      Delete
  34. This post has forced me out of blurkdom and on to your comments page. Your crabby chic manifesto is so on the mark. When someone tries to get me to decorate
    with milk bottles and dried weeds because they think it's Shabby Chic my gut response is "only one of those words is correct". I fear for mid-century modern next.
    Every time I hear the term MCM (but really the Ikea catalogue) I just remember how much I always wanted a Mark Cross bag...
    Thanks for a great blog and for being judiciously snarky. Carrie Higginbotham, not anonymous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Carrie! I do try not to be overly snarky, but sometimes, I just have to do it!

      Delete
  35. Ugh, ugh, ugly. What is with that stupid chair/planter thingie? Mason jars! Burlap! 2 things that were forbidden at my daughter's wedding. She hates that look more than I do. I would never have anything like that. I try to go for authentic. I'd rather have less but better and no DIY. I love the sound of your friend's cottage with hand me downs that were well made. I also hate faux vintage, especially faux vintage MCM. Enough of my rant. I thought that look was dead long ago?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think my next snarky post will be on the inauthentic use of the word authentic. Or maybe I will tackle vintage! Well-made hand-me-downs can look brilliant.

      Delete
  36. I haven't read the comments here yet - so anyway, I am a fan of Rachel Ashwell - I can't help it! I have all her books and her last two are my favorites. Unfortunately, people can take this look WAY WAY TOO FAR and execute it sooooo wrong and this gives it a bad rap. God love my mother (in her 70's) but her house, although very pretty, comfortable, and pleasing to her ( and this is what is important in the end) is a Victorian Shabby Chic Blowout. Roses, Angels, Lace - the whole bit. Not my interpretation of Shabby Chic or do I think its Rachel Ashwell's! Mainstream gift shops and magazines took this look and ran with it - the worst is that microwave - my mom would love that though! I'm 54 and I can't stand the hipster bland antlers on a tree stump table with a black cross or arrow blanket draped over a plastic shell chair -the kind the dentist had in the waiting room when I was in grade school - each to their own I guess. By the way, I don't mind you being snarky at all - rather fun at times!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved Rachel Ashwell, too and have her books. The original look was great and authentic, but this is toooo much!

      Delete
  37. Also - have any of you seen this weird trend of repurposing old furniture - like a old door with half a old table attached to it and a mismatch of old hooks - maybe a old garden gate even (for notes and postcards) ,bits of barbed wire,a birdhouse added for good measure - all attached to the door which is now supposed to be a "entry piece" - a entry hall table. I went in a store that was all this sort of thing. I applaud the ingenuity but its taking things to a whole strange level.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't like that look at all. I like a little bit of industrial, but mostly classic.

      Delete
  38. This made me laugh out loud, literally.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I was having a really bad day. Then I came across your article. You made me laugh so hard that I'm completely cheered up. I showed my husband ( and he hates all things rusted) and even he hasn't laughed so hard at an article! He said I should follow u. That was a hilarious post, but spot on!!!! Thank you my dear friend 😘 for making my day

    ReplyDelete
  40. I was having a really bad day. Then I came across your article. You made me laugh so hard that I'm completely cheered up. I showed my husband ( and he hates all things rusted) and even he hasn't laughed so hard at an article! He said I should follow u. That was a hilarious post, but spot on!!!! Thank you my dear friend 😘 for making my day

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hey meg. Judging by your photo of your tacky fireplace. You are not a home designer. Instead of posting ugly pictures why don't you post nice versions of shabby chic? Your blog is Catty and non inspiring. Another coward sitting behind a computer voicing an opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I LOVE your article, you are too funny!! I run an interior design blog here on blogspot as well, I'd love to collab with you sometime!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for reading and commenting on Pigtown*Design. I read each and every comment and try to reply if I have your e-mail address.