30 Years of Shabby Chic™

by Rachel Ashwell

This Year we celebrate 30 years since the opening of my first Shabby Chic™ store in Santa Monica, California and the beginning of what became The World of Shabby Chic™.  My vision way back then was innocent and simple.  My mantra was Beauty, Comfort and Function, with a focus on washable slip covered sofas, vintage accessories complimented with a touch of glamour by way of twinkly chandeliers.

The name Shabby Chic™ was perfect for my vision.  I had always loved combining fancy elements with imperfection.  I’ve always been drawn to the unsung heroes in life that in their quiet way steal the show.

Thirty years ago, I was a young Mum with two tiny children living on the beach in Malibu, CA., knowing I had many years ahead of me with sticky fingers and sand dragged into our cottage. So, based on need I innocently and authentically created my personal world of Shabby Chic™ for my family. A world that was beautiful but not intimidating, a world that was nurturing but supported a busy and active life.

In 1989, there were no iPhones, no influencers, no computers, no Amazon, barely the word vintage and the concept of embracing the Beauty of Imperfection had yet to be accepted in the perfect world of décor.  I wasn't formally a trained designer and I hadn't done a study of voids in the market. I had grown up in flea markets in London with my parents and I had also worked as a stylist for commercials, so I had a knowledge of searching for treasures and creating a world of make believe. My sister was a ballerina and the romance and palette of ballet was of great influence to me and is threaded throughout much of my design work.

So, with a very limited budget and even less know- how, little by little I curated elements needed to open my first little store. In retrospect, my innocence allowed me to be brave while being charming and authentic. Rubber stamps and brown paper bags were my marketing tools, out of necessity of budget and my personal aesthetics. Not because it was hip.

I gathered treasures from the flea markets and developed a white, washable, and comfortable sofa with qualities of days gone by. While I didn’t invent the concept of a slipcover, they were not in the market for many years. My English upbringing and influence of California living was the recipe for me to give slipcovers a new lease of life. I embraced mushy cushions and loose fit covers. I tea stained fabrics as well as sun bleached them to create a look of faded elegance. And while chandeliers were commonly seen in fancy settings, I had a vision of layering them into humble settings, alongside Limoges china and an abundance of floppy English cabbage roses.  I also layered in my flea market finds, items filled with soul and crackly white paint, pieces that added a nostalgic story.  Finding these treasures continues to this day to be an important part of my process, I always want to maintain the unique and soulful element in my story telling.

The World of Shabby Chic™ struck a chord with all walks of life, creating a movement for a new way of decorating.  Celebrities were drawn to this glamorous as well as practical décor.  Shabby Chic™ became a world-famous brand in part by sharing their ‘enthusiasm.

Shabby Chic™ has endured the test of time, both as the challenges that come with the territory of a long-standing business as well as other trends coming and going. But I have always passionately remained true to my original vision and have personally lived a Shabby Chic™ life. I have a great appreciation for quality and timelessness.  I believe what we bring into our homes is sacred and a privilege to be part of the tapestry of our lives.  Things that are loved and hold cherished memories as they are passed on as heirlooms.

Thirty years allows for us to be considered a legacy while still relevant.  Shabby Chic™ has played a profound influential role for both large corporate stores as well as small owned business.

My original store still stands as a sacred home for my design work and story-telling. It holds our values of Beauty Comfort and Function for our global partnerships to have a guiding light to ensure all of our products, wherever sold, maintain the timeless and magical world we have created.

Shabby Chic™ is a brand that has touched the heart and soul of millions of people around the world, a meaningful contributor to making a house a cherished home.

Images from the following books:

My Floral Affair

The World of Shabby Chic

Prairie and Flea Market Treasures

Sumptuous Settings & Other Lovely Things

The Shabby Chic Book

 


7 comments


  • I remember the first time I genuinely appreciated my collection of soft, faded old bed linens, I’d just spent a wonderful morning reading one of the earliest books you had written. There was a close affinity with your appreciation of cottage roses, in pinks dancing across the fabric of a worn sheet, still with life in it. And you wrote about the feel of the fabric, as though bringing our Grandmother’s treasures back to life. I was hooked, and always bought the latest book you had graced us with. So yes this is 30 years of celebration for so many of us who were influenced and follow now the inner leanings of beauty, comfort, and function embraced by your world of Rachel Ashwell. Thank you from legions across the globe.

    alice gamble on

  • Dear Rachel, I fell in love with your aesthetic the first time I saw your first book in my local library. This was in the early nineties and my love for what you do has never wavered. I have watched your style evolve and change a bit over the years but your underlying values have never changed. Thank you so much for giving us the world f Shabby Chic and for the calming and beautiful influence you’ve had on my home. Carry on!

    Audrey-Jane Colson on

  • Hi Rachel,
    Like others here, I have grown up with you… I can’t remember when I first came across “Shabby Chic and Rachel Ashwell” you have been in my life for longer than I remember, inspiring furnishings, a vintage shop myself, painted furniture and just rainy afternoons pouring over your books. You bring a little magic to this cold, dreary world. Keep creating.

    Julianne Watson on

  • Congratulations Rachel and Shabby Chic!! 30 years is quite extraordinary. Thank you for bringing your special magic to the world! I have been a fan and customer for about half of your journey so far. Love Shabby Chic, please never stop!! xx

    Corinne on

  • I have been your fan from the beginning I remember buying your first book in a Pottery barn .I immediately fell in love 💞as a mother of three small children you were a God sent .When your show started in the style network I was over the moon .I taped everyone of them . I remember when you designed Jennifer Lopez restaurant Madres it was gorgeous .As a New Yorker I love going to your soho shop .Love you Rachel Keep on doing what you do 🙏

    Gladys Vitaliano on


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