December 2, 2011
Our mother used to talk about the beauty of imperfection, but we always thought she was just trying to make our unruly hair and awkward teen years less painful. But if you ask Rachel Ashwell – famed designer, flea market hunter and author – she will tell you that imperfection is not only gorgeous, it is a lifestyle. The English-born mother of two founded the Shabby Chic brand in 1989. Since then, her line of ethereal home essentials has grown to include the whimsical and affordable Target collection, Simply Shabby Chic.
Below we talk to the avid blogger and designer about scouting markets, vintage inspirations and how motherhood changed her life.
What draws you to timeworn and antique pieces?
Rachel Ashwell: I’m drawn to pieces that are imperfect. It’s intimidating to be in a setting where everything is perfect and polished, so I like things with character, charm and imperfections. I was raised in this setting, so it’s natural for me.
Have you always been interested in design?
RA: I grew up going to flea markets with my parents. My mother made clothes for antique dolls – she would use frayed pieces, and worn ribbons and fabrics. She embraced the imperfections in the pieces she made. My dad was an antique book dealer, and I’d watch him at markets – it taught me to be quick on my feet and trust my gut when making decisions. I love the entrepreneurial aspect of flea markets; the culture, conversing with people, the stories and the history.
Did your experience as a movie set designer and stylist inspire you to start your own line?
RA: My first job – at age 16 – was assisting a wardrobe stylist. I love the storytelling aspect of movies. It was never my plan or intention at an early age to design homes, but styling showed me that I wanted a life of timeworn elegance.
When you’re at markets searching for new finds, how do you select what is worth buying?
RA: Before I go shopping, I evaluate what pieces I need and what rooms I’m shopping for. That way I have a direction or purpose for my shopping. I look for items with authentic paint – colors that I’m drawn to are pale green, ivory and bleached woods. And, you can’t go wrong with all white. When I find a piece I like, I think about the value of the item to me. How much am I willing to pay for this piece? This way I’m not surprised or forced to make a tough decision when I hear what the price is. I also don’t shop for everything at flea markets. Sometimes it might be an old ribbon for gift wrapping, or a vintage tin container for a gift. Blending flea market treasures with yesterday’s magic is what I love.
Has your design philosophy changed since becoming a mom?
RA: I became a designer once I was a mother. My inspiration was to create a child-friendly environment. With young kids around I thought, “How can I make my home child-friendly?” That’s why I incorporated chipped wood furniture into my home – if my kids chip it again, it doesn’t matter. Twenty years ago slipcovers were hard to find!
What are some of your favorite Simply Shabby Chic pieces?
The balloon shades are timeless. They’re a piece I love to pieces! And the Rose Wreath bath collection is one of my all-time favorites. I love layering Target pieces with other items – it creates an unexpected look. One of my favorite colors right now is lavender. In the spring, I’ll have some new lavender sheets available at Target.
Shop Simply Shabby Chic at Target and get inspired by her Shabby Chic books.
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