Although many designers develop a signature style, few could claim to have created a design concept that has remained as popular and widespread in its appeal as Shabby Chic. The laid-back, feminine mix of pale colours, white floors and pretty vintage that typifies Shabby Chic has been embraced by everyone from Hollywood stars to Chelsea families, and forms the backbone of many blogs and Pinterest boards. However its originator, Rachel Ashwell, came up with the idea well before the internet age, opening her first store in Santa Monica in 1989. Since then her hugely influential style has been celebrated on Oprah and graced the homes of A-listers like Pamela Anderson and Jessica Simpson, and this month sees Rachel launch her ninth book, The World of Shabby Chic. It looks back at the highs and lows of her business career, key elements of the Shabby Chic style and palette, and opens the doors on some of her favourite Shabby Chic homes. We caught up with her for an exclusive chat about how her English upbringing influenced her style, the first flat she ever decorated, and how both her mother and father taught her the lessons she’s needed to create her one-off vision for the home.
“My first proper flat that I decorated myself was in my late teens, after leaving London for Hollywood. It was a rented, rundown, shabby house in the Hollywood Hills. Ironically I was moving in with a bunch of long-haired guys! They didn’t know the meaning of the word clean and I painted all the floors white which probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do. But it made the place look amazing – a white wow! Even back in those days I think it was all about layers. I always wanted things to feel light and relaxed. So in my hodge-podge way, with paint and big throws, I was able to create something like my signature style early on.”
“Often people ask ‘where did Shabby Chic derive from?’ And for me it’s a very clear combination of my English heritage and California living. My upbringing in England made me very comfortable around antiques and vintage elements. I’ve always been very appreciative of the quality of detail and heirlooms – things that have passed through generations, and therefore have the ability to withstand years of living. Add that to my easy Califorina life it’s a nice balance of something with substance but that isn’t too serious. Brits make do and get on with it, so those two lifestyles together is really at the core of the aesthetic and the lifestyle of Shabby Chic. My mantra with everything is Beauty, Comfort, Function. Whatever I’m designing goes through that filter and those values.”
“My childhood home in England was furnished with secondhand finds and a few new elements, artfully pulled together by Mum – she was a whiz with a paintbrush. Both my parents were involved with antiques in different ways. My father was an antique book dealer and it wasn’t so much about his books but I learnt a lot about the buying of vintage with him. We used to go to a lot of flea markets and he was a very quick mover down the isles, he was very decisive. He had very good relationships with his vendors so that practical side of it I learnt from him.”
“My mum sold antique dolls which have no bearing on what I do except for she used to restore them and what I got from that, by osmosis, was her appreciation of the beauty of imperfection. I loved that she would tea stain a bit of old silk to make a dress, or find a bit of old velvet ribbon that looked a bit threadbare for the hat. So I have been very influenced by her attention to detail and appreciation for imperfection. The end result of her work was always that these little dolls could still be played with – they weren’t museum pieces. The beauty of imperfection is still a core value of Shabby Chic.”
The World of Shabby Chic by Rachel Ashwell is published by Rizzoli New York. You can find her website and read her blog here.
She also has a range of products available from House of Fraser.
All images copyright The World of Shabby Chic, Rizzoli New York 2015