I will shamelessly admit that I spend hours on Pinterest.
I can scroll through the Food & Drink page and find twenty new recipes to try. I can explore the DIY & Crafts page and add a dozen knitting projects or funky little make-it-yourself decorations that I will totally someday create (and that will, of course, look just as good as the picture). I can also spend who knows how long mentally constructing the perfect house based off of impossibly perfect pictures from the Home Décor page.
Pinterest is what enlightened me to the fact that, just like with clothing, décor fashion trends can sweep in almost out of nowhere. And also, just like with clothing styles, I’ve noticed that the concept of “vintage” holds a peculiar fascination.
In décor, this idea of a vintage-themed house has morphed into the concept of “shabby chic.” But what exactly is “shabby chic”? It’s an almost oxymoronic term, but Pinterest loves it!
Hours of research (and by “research” I mean scrolling through Pinterest) has convinced me that “shabby chic” simply means decorating with things that look old-fashioned and worn out but are, for the most part, quite new. You take these old-but-not-really decorative items and make your house look fancy… but also kind of old and worn out. Worn out, but still fancy. That’s what “shabby chic” means.
Furthermore, to achieve true “shabby chic” status, your old furniture cannot look too old and it cannot be the wrong kind of old. To achieve chic, you have to also make it look classy. You have to control the levels of shabby and chic very carefully. Too shabby and your house just looks out of date. Too chic and you lose out on that charming quaintness you were striving for.
The idea of chalk painting and “distressing” furniture is an extremely popular décor DIY (poor, poor distressed furniture – what did it ever do to you?). Basically, you take a perfectly respectable piece of furniture that usually already has a boring wooden finish and you paint it white or black or yellow or purple or whatever color you please. And then you use sandpaper or wax or Thor’s hammer or something to age the furniture so that it looks like it’s been around for a good century before you got your hands on it.
So, in other words, “shabby chic” actually means “fake fancy old stuff.”
Yes, I know. I’m being mean. I’m also not sharing the fact that I have been seduced by “shabby chic” just like so many others. When I’m industriously scrolling through Pinterest (it’s research, you see, for our future house! It’s super important! It’s necessary!) the pictures I pause on and admire are, in fact, the shabbier, chicer (chiquer? chicier? plus chic?) ones. I actually quite like old-looking things.
No, what I really like are old things. I collect antique books whenever I can get my hands on them. I raid used book stores, hunting for those giveaway old covers. I have a glorious little collection of century-old books that are scattered throughout our home looking all old and shabby. And, yes, even a little chic.
I love old things. I love old buildings with worn edges and interesting stories. I love beautiful, beaten furniture. I love big, scrolly wardrobes that look like they might just possibly hide a country inside – a country they’d be pleased to show you if you asked nicely enough.
I do truly love old things.
I think what grates on my nerves is the idea of fake old things. We take pieces of furniture and make them look older than they are. And then people come over and admire your shabby looking table and you tell them, “Thank you! I picked it up in a yard sale last week, but I worked really hard to make it look like it got knocked off the back of a mule cart a hundred years ago and trampled by wild goats. Isn’t it très chic?”
After feeling all righteously indignant for awhile on behalf of all the beautiful truly old things in the world, I came down off of my high horse and had to admit that there is a great deal of virtue to be found in this “shabby chic” craze. After all, we can’t all afford to buy a wardrobe constructed a century ago, magical or otherwise. We can’t fulfill our shabby, antique dreams on our limited incomes, most of the time. So we buy things that are close enough and make them look older than they are.
What I realized is that the magic of old things can be achieved, to some extent, in fake old things. Perhaps we can call them “fictional” old things.
When you take that perfectly boring, ten-year-old table and transform it into a piece that might have been swiped from a French chateau back when aristocrats were still comfortably unaware of such things as guillotines and suffering peasants, you create a story for it. With a little DIY effort and some chalk paint (what even is that stuff?), you can turn a room into the story you want it to tell.
So, I suppose that I am giving everyone (but mostly myself) permission to continue shabby chic-ing their houses. Not that you needed my permission, but I think I needed to figure out why it bothered me so much before I could figure out a way to satisfy my own longing for beautiful old things. I will keep buying my old books. I will never learn to love a new book that tries to masquerade as an old one and no amount of throwing it out a window or letting your rabbit chew on its edges will convince me that it belongs in my beautiful old collection. An old book is irreplaceably special. But make-believing an old table, a wardrobe, a chair or two… I think I could manage that someday.