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How to do shabby chic

Shabby chic style evolved from the British country house look, where interiors seem to display style more by accident than design. The basis of shabby chic includes distressed and painted furniture, faded textiles, faux finishes and big, soft sofas. The style widened to include the bohemian look favoured by artists and students; it took some elements from romantic French country decor and others from American folk art. In essence, it is comfortable vintage elegance and you can turn any room into your own personal expression of shabby chic.

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  1. Apply a distressed finish to walls by painting a base coat of latex paint. Mix up a glaze of a similar colour and acrylic glaze according to the manufacturer's directions. Paint or sponge the glaze on to create a worn-looking irregular finish. Choose colours that are easy on the eye; usually pale is best though deep, rich coloured walls provide a dramatic backdrop to the shabby chic look.

  2. Turn vintage furniture into elegant pieces by sanding, applying a pale base coat (soft white, cream, ivory or pale blue-green) and crackle glaze. Seal with varnish and finish by rubbing gold wax onto edges and where natural wear would occur.

  3. Layer mismatching throws on armchairs and sofas. Add plenty of large, soft cushions. Hang full-length drapes and allow the fabric to pool on the floor. Choose faded floral or plain white fabrics. Make curtain tiebacks and secure to brass hooks. For privacy, add muslin sheers or wood slatted blinds. Place plain or floral rugs on the floor; avoid harsh colours or geometric designs.

  4. Accessorise the room with groups of silver-framed family photos, old china, a bookcase or two and watercolour paintings. Lighting should be plentiful but soft. Choose vintage-style lamps and a chandelier. Mirrors are essential components of shabby chic; look for those with imperfect and spotted silvering. Remove paint on the frames, polish with beeswax and add some gold wax on the edges.

  5. Scent the room with jugs of loosely arranged flowers, scented candles and beeswax or lavender furniture polish.

  6. Tip

    Avoid colour clashes by keeping to a light or warm palette in a limited range. Bring in some Chinese or Indian elements; old British country houses often display carvings or furniture from Asia. Don't accumulate too much clutter, as it becomes overwhelming and difficult to keep clean. Arrange collections in designated spaces or glass-fronted cabinets. Always use natural fabrics, rather than man-made; shabby chic hearkens back to a time when man-made textiles weren't available. Keep the room light and airy during the day and warm and cosy at night.

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Things You'll Need

  • Satin latex paint
  • Acrylic glaze
  • Paintbrush
  • Sponge
  • Antique, but not valuable, furniture
  • Crackle glaze
  • Polyurethane varnish
  • Gold furniture wax
  • Beeswax polish
  • Textiles: throws, drapes, cushions, rugs in soft, faded colours
  • Accessories: photos, books, mirrors

About the Author

Beverley Gee

Beverley Gee began her freelance writing career in 1982. She earned a National Diploma in information technology and business studies at Coleg Glan Hafren, Cardiff, U.K. She has written for several U.K. publications including the "South Wales Echo" and her local newspaper, "The Diary." She is also a qualified reflexologist.

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