Rachel Ashwell started the shabby chic craze in her Santa Monica boutique in 1989. While you can purchase ready-made "shabby chic" pieces, the true joy of the style comes from creating your own. Turning a worn piece of furniture into a shabby chic special requires a few tools and no special skills.
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Rescue occasional pieces, like wooden chairs and side tables, that get kicked to the curb on bin day. Browse flea markets and charity shops. Look for sturdy pieces with no missing components and no great structural or surface damage.
Clean dirty wooden furniture with trisodium phosphate, or TSP, according to the manufacturer's directions. Use a scrub brush, sponge, toothpicks and old toothbrushes to clean the piece. Scrap off any loose paint and apply a paint stripper as needed.
Sand the item well and apply a good paint sealer, then paint the item whatever color you like. Add several thin coats of paint, allowing each one to dry before applying another. Use fine grit sandpaper to "distress" the finished piece, giving it an aged, worn look. Finish with a coat of paste wax to protect the finish.
Make a cocktail table by cutting down the legs of a porcelain-top or wooden kitchen table. Strip a wooden table to bare wood and protect it with a coat of paste wax. Paint a porcelain-top table or leave it the original white color.
Scour flea markets and second hand shops for upholstered pieces. Look for well built pieces with rolled arms, solid framing, intact springs and all the cushions. Check for stains and odours that may not resolve.
Purchase or make slipcovers for used upholstered sofas and easy chairs. Choose linen or cotton fabrics in neutral tones like white or cream, florals and chintz, stripes or ticking.
Use vintage dishtowels to create throw pillows. Add wide ruffles, ball fringe, ribbon trim or buttons to give the pillows a finished look. Mix colors and textures around a floral theme or vary the patterns around one or two colors.
Upholster the seats of dining room chairs in poplin or chintz. Add a floppy ruffle around the edge to soften the look.