By Karen Parr-Moody


Whitewashed, distressed wood furniture can help create an oasis of calm in a busy home, and is often part of the "shabby chic" décor. But to keep the look in the year 2011, it is best to steer clear of the "shabby chic" style of yesteryear, which includes chintz fabrics and angel motifs. While this style of Victorian-meets-cottage is still appealing to some, the newest incarnation of "shabby" is about modernizing the flea market aesthetic.


Colors in this whitewashed palette aren't actually always white; they can also include tones that are just a whisper above white, such as dove grays, silver greens, and pale blues. Such pieces lighten up a room, and can be thoroughly modern when done with specific aims in mind. 


One way to modernize this washed-out palette is to add pops of modern color, such as rusty orange, midnight blue or vivid turquoise. To keep the look hip, one can choose these colors as wall art, as with a tin tile in a solid color, or as clean-lined furniture in the Mid-century modern, farmhouse or industrial vein. Industrial items, in particular, offset the cottage feel of a whitewashed paint finish. Sleeker textures, such as powder-coated enamel, will also add an edgy vibe. 


Another way to modernize the "shabby chic" look is to create a room with minimal decoration.  Keeping furnishings spare helps avoid a dated look. To achieve this look, one can incorporate whitewashed furniture in a Neoclassical or French Provincial style, creating a look straight out of a "Restoration Hardware" catalog. Then one can "polish" the room by adding sparkling surfaces, such as crystal and silver. Ametallic pattern wallpaper would look great in such a room if put in an oversized frame or on a frameless canvas. 






Table lamps with crystal pendents could also bring some shine into a spare room, as could a silver-and-crystal chandelier. Adding mirrors will create the idea of a polished, silver finish. The photo, right, shows such a French Empire style of mirror, a look that was popular in the early 1800s and was inspired by classic Greek and Roman design ($325; Booth B-1006). Its swags and bows fit in with the elegant side of the "shabby" look, while its rustic finish fits in with its pared-down, comfortable character. 










The table in the photo, left, reminds one of the British Colonial style, where secondhand wood furniture got a fresh look by a coat of white paint, only to be worn out again by salt air and frequent moves ($65; Booth B-256). If one was to go this decorating route, this table would be right at home in a room filed with Caribbean tropical furniture, textural elements such as caning, bead-board walls, and natural fiber rugs and window shades. 



The graceful lines of this cabinet, right, are elegant and tailored, while the distressed finish takes it from being overly stately ($400; Booth B-134). This piece can take a room away to a time where rural manors and chateaus were enjoyed by French nobility. Such a muted shade as the one on this cabinet looks as though it has been through seasons of sun and rain. It could fit into a washed out room, or it could lighten up a room that has heavier colors, such as chocolate browns and brick red. Strict adherence to a certain color scheme is not necessary to create the look of a French country estate. 


Like many of the "shabby" items, this gray lamp, below left, comes high on style and low on price, at $52 (Booth B-129). Since it is a sort of cool gray tone, it could be warmed up when paired with colors such as deep olive green and cream. It would fit well in a room full of earthy textures, such as woods and stone, so that it could create the notion of an enchanted forest within a room.











Few types of interior styles are as understated and elegant as those created by washed-out furniture. Not only is this flea market chic easily achievable for even the most novice of decorators, it also happens to be extremely affordable. Anyone who has been to "Restoration Hardware" lately knows that the look is gorgeous, but the prices are getting more and more expensive. Similar hidden treasures are easily found at GasLamp for a reasonable price. 

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