Simply Shabby Chic: Rachel Ashwell Shares her Design Secrets for a Shabby Chic Home

Rachel Ashwell, who founded the iconic Shabby Chic brand to celebrate comfortable, relaxed furnishings, vintage style and flea market finds, offers tips on Shabby Chic design.

| September/October 2010

  • A whitewashed cement wall makes an amazing backdrop for a crystal chandelier.
    Photography By Amy Neunsinger
  • Vintage hardware, with its paint layers, chips and cracks, offers time-worn character.
    Photography By Amy Neunsinger
  • Anaglypta wallpaper is a lovely textured material with an embossed pattern.
    Photo Courtesy Rachel Ashwell
  • Unique vintage light fixtures can completely transform a space.
    Photography By Amy Neunsinger
  • The ruffled rose-covered tablecloth is an old curtain that has been following Ashwell around for years.
    Photography By Amy Neunsinger

Fabrics, hardware, lighting, art, patina and vintage wallpaper are a few of my favorite elements in creating a decorative symphony, in which all instruments are of equal importance. The star piece is always captivating, but it is the supporting roles that bring depth.

Little unique details resonate and evoke a deeper experience of a home. I often think outside the box as to how things should be used, and I give a lot of thought to an object’s history, appreciating that its history of use and ownership expresses itself through its patina. The search and the stories passed on from owner to owner add to a home’s quality and honor.

I will live with a naked light bulb rather than install a light fixture that is less than magical. In addition to its practical function, lighting sets a home’s mood. It can create whimsy, or simplicity.

I often leave things as I find them, because the rips, chips, cracks and missing pieces all add character. Patina and bare threads are to me evidence of a life lived to the fullest. Perfection I find intimidating and dull, and I don’t want to be the one to make the first mark and break the perfection. I don’t want to perform plastic surgery on my time-worn treasures. I want to enjoy every crack, every layer of paint, every thread that hangs. I want these elements to create the tapestry of my home. Silks, velvet, linens and lace all cohabitate if they have the same acceptance of age. Different woods can tell their own story by proudly displaying their layers of different stages of life. The end result is character that is impossible to re-create. Just like memories, it takes life, history and time. 

Vintage wallpaper is a pain to hang. Often the rolls are so old they fall apart in your hands, and sometimes the edges have to be cut, as that is where the pattern name is written. They are not self-glued, so it’s a six-act play to apply to the wall. But when it’s done, it’s a showstopper. The old-fashioned printing has such a lovely quality. Often the paper is faded, which is magical, and the prints themselves are just not around today.

Rachel’s favorite antique and flea markets

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