July 16 2010
Lucia van der Post
Back in the 1990s many of us fell in love with Rachel Ashwell’s seminal book, Shabby Chic. It summed up perfectly that peculiarly English penchant for slightly faded, gently decaying beauty.
Ashwell had previously (in 1989) opened two divine shops called Shabby Chic, one in Santa Monica, California, and one in SoHo, Manhattan; they were the decorating equivalent of comfort food, perfect for the recessionary times that were beginning to bite. I made a point of looking in on the Manhattan store every time I found myself in New York. Her fan-base grew and she opened the eyes of the West Coast set to the beauty to be found in imperfection, in the chipped and the faded.
The US celeb set scooped up her gentle chintzes, her soft and welcoming sofas and distressed mirrors. So sought-after were her over-sized loose-covered sofas, her vintage French furniture and faded floral sheets that she eventually had 15 stores of her own as well as a flourishing wholesaling business selling to independent furniture retailers around the US. In addition, Target, the influential low-cost chain, commissioned her to do a range specially for it.
A couple of years ago it all went pear-shaped and she filed for bankruptcy. Now, however, she has new partners and, as well as a range of licensed products that will be sold throughout the US, she has also opened three Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture stores – one in SoHo, one in Santa Monica, and, best of all, she’s just brought the very first Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture store to the UK.
It’s in London’s Notting Hill and very enchanting it is too. If you own a glitzy loft apartment or your tastes run to all the latest from Milan’s furniture fiera, then it’s probably not for you. But if you have a country cottage, a gorgeous manor house, a Scottish bothy or anything else where things that are too bright, too shiny or too new would look out of place, then you’d probably love a rummage round Ashwell’s Shabby Chic emporium.
All the hallmarks of the Shabby Chic look are there – the old (or apparently old) mirrors, the comfy sofas with loose covers (from £1,551, excluding fabric) in plain creams and oatmeals or faded chintzes, the pale painted wood furniture, the chandeliers, the one-off pieces of restored old furniture, the vintage table lights, the dining chairs and tables (chairs from £275; tables £905-£1,278): all the props for the faded country-house look.
For those whose houses are mostly furnished and who are just in need of a few charming props or want some interesting presents that aren’t to be found in every chain store, there’s plenty to choose from. This is more than just a shop, it’s a way of life, and everything there is designed for the real lives most of us live and not for picture-perfect show-time.