The Simple Life
By Michele Meier Vosberg
Shabby Chic…and Then Some
There is a hot new decorating style being offered these days…shabby chic. I know it’s true, I saw the book awhile ago and I was mildly amused. I’ve been in gift shops and seen “shabby chic” style with my own eyes, and now there’s even a television show dedicated to the trend.
I am addicted to home and decorating shows on television. This from a person who watches very little TV. It’s a good thing I have a job or I would probably watch them all day, Lynette Jennings, Christopher Lowell, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Rebecca’s Garden; I love them all. A couple of years ago we discovered that we could not get decent television reception in the hills where we live. We were forced to get a satellite system or give up television entirely. Though I protested the expense and extravagance initially, I was delighted to discover that there is an entire channel dedicated to decorating and growing things. I began my fascination with House and Garden Television.
On Saturdays or Sundays, when I can pry the TV away from my children or husband, I turn on HGTV and leave it on all day. Oh, I don’t actually sit and watch all day, that would be too guilt producing on my part. I like to leave it on as I wash dishes or fold laundry or do other mindless chores. I watch bits and pieces as they interest me. I take time out to watch a segment on using a wire frame to make topiary out of ordinary pots of plants or ways to rearrange your furniture to get a new look from the same old stuff. I come away with ideas, and more importantly, I come away with the idea that these are things that I could actually do. After all, Christopher Lowell’s favorite phrase is, “You can do this!” My husband and I have watched several segments, on several different shows, about putting in a flagstone path, and since we have a front door leading to nowhere, it will be one of our first projects this spring.
People laugh at these shows, and claim that they offer ideas that are unrealistic or set unbelievably high standards (Martha, are you listening?). I am inclined to disagree, but then again, there is now “Shabby Chic.” I actually took my cup of coffee, sat down, and watched the entire show. A woman with a distinctly British accent, goes around to flea markets and buys old, shabby furniture. She prefers it if the paint is pealing off, baring bits of former paint colors beneath. She looks for “interesting” details. Plastic is outlawed. Broken, worn and obsolete are not detriments. She brings her finds back to her workshop where her assistants fix them up. Now in my life of scrounging furniture from garage sales, this would mean a fresh coat of paint. I actually watched the assistant take steel wool and remove more of the white paint from an old chest, leaving the former green and pink paints showing. She put an antique vase with fresh flowers on top, and voila! Shabby chic. It looked terrific.
I’ve seen the look in pricey gift shops too. New furniture is “distressed” to appear old. Vintage garden furniture, complete with layers of rust, costs a fortune. You can actually buy a kit to induce the look of the aged, worn patina of old clay flowerpots. My friend and I saw a collection of old farming planting discs, rusty and dirty, hanging on the wall of an expensive shop. They looked like some sort of ancient Italian sundials. We were in awe. I realized, excitedly, that we probably had some of these old discs in a barn somewhere. Shabby chic was within my reach!
And then I came to my senses. In my life, dirty rusty farm discs hanging on a wall would probably look like dirty rusty farm things. Grandma’s old chest with the peeling paint doesn’t look chic, it looks like it needs a good sanding and a couple coats of paint. It is a three -day project. I have an old, blue velvet covered chair with worn spots. A spring is broken and it protrudes from the underside of the chair. I am afraid that one of these days someone is going to cut their ankle off if they cross their feet under the chair. My chair is shabby, but not charming and definitely not chic. Somehow I don’t think adding a lovely hand crocheted doily to the back is going to make a difference.
Based on the amount of shabby, my house could be shabby chic, but it isn’t. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Maybe I need an assistant. I hear Martha has hundreds. All the TV show people have assistants. I like that idea; I could dream up ideas and have them do the work. TV show decorators are always saying how easy everything is. Of course it’s easy if your assistant does the work. Paint color not quite right? The assistant paints it over in a television minute. Vertical garden structures for your tomatoes and beans? Up and flowing with greenery in the time it takes to say commercial.
Since the shabby thing doesn’t seem to work for me, maybe I should give up following the masses and create my own new style. I could be a trend -setter instead of a trend follower. That has a certain appeal, in fact, I already have an idea, based on my real experiences with decorating in my own life. Give up your Michael Graves contemporary, your vintage garden style or French farmhouse look. The hottest new thing in decorating circles will be my new look, “Faded and Fabulous.” It’s real life decorating with an earthy, natural quality.
Watch for me on HGTV.