I know. I know. To each his or her own. I am from that generation wanting everything shiny and new. Of course, we didn’t always get what we wanted. Setting up house as newlyweds back in the ’60s usually meant gladly accepting the family’s hand-me-downs. So, I am surprised by the shabby chic phenomenon.
I wrote this story more than a dozen years ago. Shabby chic has survived! I still don’t get it…
(This story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002)
Tired of new being old. The latest goal in home decor leaves a lot to be desired.
By Judy Harch
Shabby chic. I just don’t get it. Why would you take a brand-new piece of furniture or pottery and turn it into something you would ordinarily walk past at a garage sale? This latest rage in home decor must be part of the generation gap.
I was born just as World War II was winding down and the American postwar economy was heating up. Returning servicemen and women were staking out their chunk of the American dream. Upward mobility was in. Many young newlyweds had a house full of shabby hand-me-down furniture that they would have labeled anything but chic.
After my father returned from the war, my parents worked hard for the opportunity to decorate our home in upholstered furniture covered with crisp, new, wrinkle-free fabrics.
The current rumpled look of cotton, ruffled slipcovers, and chenille “throws” tossed over furniture for that casual, lived-in appearance is the very style my parents’ generation tried to escape.
The 1950s brought the often impossible standard of a well-scrubbed, everything-in-its-place, squeaky-clean home. When guests came calling, every pillow was fluffed, and every piece of furniture was smoothed to a state of perfection that would pass military muster.
And heaven help anyone who would toss a blanket of any sort over the arm of a chair.
When my generation married, the old stuff was cleaned out of attics and garages and given to the newlyweds.
When my husband and I set up housekeeping, our first lovely living-room suite consisted of my in-laws’ redwood patio furniture. Talk about the rustic look. Donated old wooden pieces of furniture were stripped bare and given a fresh coat of paint or stained and varnished to make them appear new.
So excuse me, Martha Stewart, if I don’t quite understand the chipped-paint look. I’ve watched Martha and many other mavens of shabby chic commit atrocities against new tables, chairs and bedroom bureaus. They add bumps and bruises to the wood with chisels, chains, and other instruments of torture. Then they apply some kind of crazy gunk that gives the appearance of crackled and chipped paint. The result – an item that looks like a refuge from Grandma’s attic.
I appreciate the beauty of a gently aged heirloom of cherished furniture. But that’s just not the same as a coffee table that has a knocked-around, banged-up look about it.
And don’t even get me started on verdigris. That’s the so-called lovely green patina that takes over anything copper as it ages. Personally, I like my copper to look copper-colored. To my generation, verdigris was what you got when you didn’t polish the copper bottoms of Revere Ware. As Martha would say, it was not a good thing.
It never ceases to amaze me that shabby-chic queens will spend hours glopping up terra-cotta pottery with endless chemical solutions to encourage that aged, green look to new planters. I live in a heavily wooded area, and my neighbors and I call that mildew. We’ve got it all over everything in our yards and the north sides of our homes.
While we’re battling the green slime with bottles of bleach, those seeking the comfy cottage look are paying extra for it.
I guess it’s as true about home furnishings as it is about clothing design. If you hold on to something long enough, it will be back in style.
I am a “live and let live” person. If shabby chic sets your heart afire, here are a few websites you might like:
(photo of Wooden Window Shutter with Heart Shape courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography @freedigitalphotos.net)
(photo of Heart and Candle Stock Photo by dan @freedigitalphotos.net)