Simply Shabby Chic: Rachel Ashwell Shares her Design Secrets for a Shabby Chic Home

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A whitewashed cement wall makes an amazing backdrop for a crystal chandelier.
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Vintage hardware, with its paint layers, chips and cracks, offers time-worn character.
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Anaglypta wallpaper is a lovely textured material with an embossed pattern.
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Unique vintage light fixtures can completely transform a space.
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The ruffled rose-covered tablecloth is an old curtain that has been following Ashwell around for years.

Fabrics, hardware, lighting, art, patina and vintage wallpaper are a few of my favorite elements in creating a decorative symphony, in which all instruments are of equal importance. The star piece is always captivating, but it is the supporting roles that bring depth.

Little unique details resonate and evoke a deeper experience of a home. I often think outside the box as to how things should be used, and I give a lot of thought to an object’s history, appreciating that its history of use and ownership expresses itself through its patina. The search and the stories passed on from owner to owner add to a home’s quality and honor.

I will live with a naked light bulb rather than install a light fixture that is less than magical. In addition to its practical function, lighting sets a home’s mood. It can create whimsy, or simplicity.

I often leave things as I find them, because the rips, chips, cracks and missing pieces all add character. Patina and bare threads are to me evidence of a life lived to the fullest. Perfection I find intimidating and dull, and I don’t want to be the one to make the first mark and break the perfection. I don’t want to perform plastic surgery on my time-worn treasures. I want to enjoy every crack, every layer of paint, every thread that hangs. I want these elements to create the tapestry of my home. Silks, velvet, linens and lace all cohabitate if they have the same acceptance of age. Different woods can tell their own story by proudly displaying their layers of different stages of life. The end result is character that is impossible to re-create. Just like memories, it takes life, history and time. 

Vintage wallpaper is a pain to hang. Often the rolls are so old they fall apart in your hands, and sometimes the edges have to be cut, as that is where the pattern name is written. They are not self-glued, so it’s a six-act play to apply to the wall. But when it’s done, it’s a showstopper. The old-fashioned printing has such a lovely quality. Often the paper is faded, which is magical, and the prints themselves are just not around today.

Rachel’s favorite antique and flea markets

Ann Arbor Antiques Market
Ann Arbor, Michigan
wide range of antiques

Brimfield Flea Market
Brimfield, Massachusetts
New England’s biggest outdoor antiques fair

Country Roads Antiques
Orange, California
primitive flea market finds

Down Home American Country Antiques
Orange, California
American Country antiques

the world’s biggest online auction site

Marburger Farm Antique Show
Round Top, Texas
week-long antique shows in Texas

Scott Antique Markets
Atlanta, Georgia, and Columbus, Ohio
large antique shows

Find it nearby

Find a Flea Market
great site for finding local flea markets

Flea USA
flea market listings by state

Vintage wallpaper

Hannah’s Treasures
Harlan, Iowa
vintage wallpaper from the 1920s to the 1970s

Rosie’s Vintage Wallpaper
fantastic collection of vintage wallpaper

regal wallpaper

Rachel Ashwell opened her first Shabby Chic store in Santa Monica, California, in 1989. Today, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture stores in New York and London offer her ever-expanding lines of bedding, furniture, accessories and vintage items. Find Ashwell’s Shabby Chic book series in libraries and bookstores; her television series, “Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic: Shabby Chic Treasures,” is available on DVD.

Excerpted with permission from Shabby Chic Interiors: My Rooms, Treasures and Trinkets by Rachel Ashwell.

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