The Shabby Chic Craze

The ‘shabby chic’ home decor style has captivated me like no other home trends had done before. I believe the surroundings have a lot to do with it. Before I moved to Europe, it was everything middle eastern. The warm coloured walls, the dark wood furniture, the intricately designed carpets, the colourful mosaic glass lamps… And just before that, it was everything minimalist, hidden away, sleek and shiny. The shift from the minimalist style to one quite pompous began. Upon arrival in Europe, the immersion in European culture for me was visiting flea markets, recycling everything, DIY whatever you can. Totally intrigued by the availability of dead old furniture and antique home accessories, I bought a book on Amazon which presents a guide to buying flea market items. And there, for the first time, the term ‘shabby chic’ appears. Suddenly, it became chic to live in a home decorated with shabby looking stuff. I’m reminded of the holes-in-jeans fashion trend. The farmers must be laughing their asses off that we urbanites are now paying an exaggerated amount of money to buy new furniture made to look like they had been used for generations. Still, I can’t help but fall in love. The pastel colours, feminine touches and sense of history that are overwhelmingly charming. Despite much protest from the other inhabitant of my space, I slyly try to continue the shabby chic assault.

Last week, we bought a shelf that didn’t fit where it’s supposed to. Being a plain cheap-looking storage shelf, it nearly got thrown out. I hastily suggested giving it a coat of paint and placing it elsewhere. R. relented and planned then to place it in the little one’s room. I was even given permission to paint it pink. Slowly inching closer…

A grand plan was finally hatched to paint it lavender. I checked out all instructions, tips and videos I could find online and got an idea of how it should be done. The best part about the shabby chic style is not things need not be perfect. That’s what an amateur needs. I’m pleased with the result but already thinking of ways to add more chic since making it look shabbier would actually require more work (by painting more areas dark then light all over again).

I’m always taking shortcuts in DIY projects because there never seem to be enough time for doing all the craft projects I want to. Here are my shortcuts:

    • The shelf was left in its original state because it was unglazed and the rough surface makes the shelf even more interesting.
    • A paper plate was used for the paint so that it could simply be thrown out without washing.
    • I cleaned as I painted. It may seem to slow down the process but it’s definitely easier to get the paint off surfaces while it’s fresh.
    • Another coat of clear lacquer was omitted so that the paint can get chipped off over the years in time for my granddaughter to inherit a real shabby piece.
    • Wear gloves and a raincoat (thanks, Daddy!) to reduce clean up time.
The obligatory ‘before’ picture
The chocolate brown paint used for the first coat. It resembles choc fondue way too much and during a sleepy moment, I nearly licked the brush.
Note: Use water-based household acrylic paint. They do not emit intoxicating vapour and clean up is easy.

1. Paint a coat of dark colour on specific areas. Depending on the colour effect you prefer, you can use dark brown, dark grey or anthrazite. I wouldn’t suggest black. It may be too stark. I painted only areas which I will sand. The obvious areas are the front panels, edges and corners. In retrospect, I will definitely cover areas. The areas I have weren’t quite enough for a stark effect. Ensure too that this coat of paint is thick. Leave paint to dry according to instructions given on tin.

2. Paint a thick coat of desired colour over the entire shelf. Popular colour choices are warm white, light beige, pastel pink, pastel blue, you get the drift… I didn’t dilute the paint used for this layer. Leave paint to dry completely.

3. Sand edges and corners randomly to remove the top coat, revealing the dark base coat. I also sand some parts of the front panels to augment the effect. Viola!

Some tips for the amateur from the amateur :

1. Know your paint types! With a restless toddler in tow, I was too anxious to make my purchase and leave, forgetting all about the huge difference between the different kinds of paint.
Alkyd resin paint is oil based and made with solvents. This means it is only solvent soluble so you will requires the kinds of turpentine to thin it. While wet, it gives off vapours which can make you sick if you don’t paint in a well ventilated area. I was intoxicated the next day and felt rather uneasy. Apparently, the paint continues to emit vapours for years. How harmful that is, I didn’t manage to find out but clearly, it’s better to simply avoid such paint. That said, alkyd resin paint is thicker and more durable than acrylic paint. So it’s a good option to consider for outdoor furnishings.

2. Buy the exact paint colour if it’s available. It didn’t occur to me to check online for possibilities to order the colour I require. Being all gungho, I simply picked up red and blue paint and tried to get the right mix myself. The end result was much darker than my desired shade.

The initial yummy looking blueberry cheesecake mixture

3. A possible remedy if you ended up with a darker like me is to add brush strokes with diluted white paint. I will try that and report another time.

4. Sand very lightly. Otherwise you end up removing the base coat as well and end up with the original colour of the shelf showing. That makes it look really amateurish.

Enjoy crafting!

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