Jewish World Review August 3, 2001 / 14 enachem-Av, 5761

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

It may be shabby and chic, but it ain't cheap -- IF you can't recognize the beauty of a rusted metal headboard stuck in the middle of a flower garden, the allure of a beat-up sofa draped in a white slip cover or the enchantment of a dilapidated wooden bookcase painted a retro green, I guess you don't know the meaning of shabby chic.

How did you get so out of it?

The truth is, I didn't know what shabby chic was either. At least not until a friend who lives in the Northwest took me for tea at a little house that doubles as a shabby-chic boutique.

"What's with all the beat-up toys?" I asked. "This doll looks like she's been drug through the mud."

"And that's why she costs $49.95," my friend said. "She's shabby chic."

Shabby chic is a decorating style that crosses quasi-antiques with goodies you'd fish out of a Dumpster. Shabby chic is a decorating style that produces oxymorons like cozy grandeur. Got a broken chandelier? You've got shabby chic. Weathered window frames in a compost pile out back? You're hot. Bird feeders made out of aluminum pots and pans? Chic, baby, very chic. In the world of shabby chic, the shabbier it looks, the more it costs.

Not to worry if you don't own any naturally shabby chic; you can create your own. The best way to do this is to take a selected artifact and dip it in a wash tub filled with coffee. If you don't like that dark, dingy effect, try singeing the edges with an Aim N Flame. (Trust me, I watch HGTV.) If that doesn't look shabby enough, there's always the sledgehammer.

In a nutshell, shabby chic takes a quality artifact or furnishing and undoes any attempt that has been made over the years to preserve it. Think Joan Rivers minus all the plastic surgery and you've got it.

My friend asked if I thought shabby chic would catch on in my part of the country.

"Catch on?" I said. "I've been doing shabby chic for years, I just didn't know what to call it."

"When did you develop an appreciation for shabby chic?"she asked.

"On my honeymoon," I said. "The better half and I flew to San Francisco and stayed in the Mark Twain Hotel. The wallpaper was peeling, the paint was cracked, the bed linens were thin and worn, and there was a hole in the ceiling -- it was not a skylight, as my husband claimed."

"Sounds like the epitome of shabby chic," she said. "Weren't you fortunate?"

We were so fortunate, we moved to a different hotel the next day. Actually, our entire family has a long history of shabby chic. For years, my father-in-law has been planting marigolds in an old commode outside his barn in Ohio.

When our children were small, the piano mysteriously developed some endearing scratch marks next to the music rack. Then there was the stressed wood phase, when little hands rubbed cleansing powder all over the bathroom door, creating a fascinating textured effect. And let's not forget those special touches in the living room, the worn sofa every charity in town refused to take off our hands and the broken glass shade on a Victorian lamp, courtesy of a fast-moving soccer ball.

For those less-fortunate souls lacking the natural gift for developing shabby chic, you can always order some artificially faded yard goods and whip up some of your own. Shabby chic fabric on the Internet runs $69 a yard.

Nobody ever said chic was cheap.

JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman