Shabby chic – a term most of us are now familiar with, was coined in the 1980s by an interior design magazine. The style originated in Britain’s country houses in the early 1900’s, when the economic state of affairs meant that people were less able to spend money on the up keep of their stately homes, leading to faded and tired interiors. Popularity of the style probably started in the late 1970’s with the modern bohemians and it has certainly been top of the interior fashion stakes for a number of years now.
In 2014 eBay reported selling over 3000 shabby chic items every day. The term essentially refers to old furniture which is showing signs of wear/age; often with many layers of paint and those underneath showing through; sometimes this can be natural aging but at other times items are distressed after purchase using various techniques. It is a kind of romantic, French chateau, relaxed, cottage style mainly using white and pastel colours, with a popularity of the rose print (think Cath Kidston) though Italian influence has led to a greater diversity of bright colours.
Some of this popularity has been down to our general fascination with vintage. Once celebrities began wearing vintage fashion, old suddenly began to be equated with fashionable. Television has also played a role through the period dramas it shows. The internet has made finding vintage items far easier than trawling local charity shops –although find the right area, and the charity shops and markets, can still furnish you with very original pieces along with being an amusing way to spend an afternoon.
Another influence on the growing popularity of shabby chic has been the awareness of sustainability with a drive to recycle as well as upcycle. With recycling, an item is broken down into its parts and then made into something different whereas upcycling is simply renovating the original item.
One Sunday this month, I attended a beginner’s furniture painting class at The Vintage Dove in Rainham, Kent. I want to upcycle a dining table and chairs but was reticent to try without some advice and practice. The class was £55 for 4 hours which I thought was very reasonable and we had to bring a small piece of furniture with us. I took a vintage wine crate which we found in the shed.
The shop is inviting as soon as you walk through the door, with a country cottage feel. It is split over 2 levels and has a lovely range of home accessories, small furniture items and gifts. The shop is a specialist in Autentico products with a comprehensive range in stock and the option to order others. If the thought of painting Granny’s dresser is all too daunting – they will also paint items for you for a fee.
Stephanie, the owner of the shop welcomed us with a much needed coffee before explaining a bit about the range of Autentico paints which they stock. Autentico are chalk based paints which come in a number of finishes and a multitude of colours. The paint is water-based and made with natural ingredients. It will stick to almost any surface meaning that there is no need for extensive sanding and primer before applying it. The only preparation required is to clean your surface with sugar soap.
Picking from the 140 colours proved difficult for the four of us that attended but as I had just been to Crete – I picked a shade of blue called Crete and a white called Corfu white.
Stephanie advised us to paint in only one direction to avoid rubbing off what you had just painted and also to paint from the middle out so that you didn’t end up with a big blob of paint on the edges. The painting was actually very therapeutic and I can see how it can become addictive. Stephanie explained how the shop had been born; simply when she couldn’t find a suitable dressing table for her daughter, so got an old one to upcycle and has been painting ever since. She commented how lucky she is to have a job she loves and her enthusiasm is certainly infectious.
When I had painted the box white all over and dried it off with a hairdryer, I then set about painting the outside of the box blue. Once this was thoroughly dry – Stephanie explained the different methods of distressing, these are dragging a wet sponge over areas you want to look faded; dry brushing which is generally used when you have a light base coat and you then dip your brush in a darker colour – dry it off and then drag it over the item. The final method was to use very fine sandpaper on the edges and other areas that would be likely to show signs of wear. I went with the sandpaper option and just used it to highlight the engraved wording on the box. The box was then finished with a coat of wax.
Stephanie also gave us a preview of the things you would learn on the advanced course and I will certainly be back for more! This follow on course looks at paint effects such a crackling and applying transfers.
I really enjoyed my day and would highly recommend the class to anyone with an interest in vintage furniture. The class was accessible and fun and was a small number of people so you got plenty of opportunities to ask questions and get some one on one tuition. I will be trawling eBay, the many charity shops in Rainham and the pop-up shop behind the White Horse pub in Rainham for future pieces to work on. Happy upcycling!