Shabby Chic Furniture – A Potted History

It is probably some twenty years since the convoy of canny Brits trawling the brocantes of France first began. Their goal…, to import pieces of old French furniture to sell on in high end British antique shops and auctions.  With a seemingly endless supply of rustic country farmhouses clearing out once cherished possessions it became the thing to do if you were in the trade.  (A little known fact is that a well known, multi million pound English reproduction furniture businesses was born less than twenty years ago from such humble beginnings.)

A signpost to a brocante painted on a rustic old bicycle
Which way to the market!?!

With our French neighbours living so close word quickly spread across the industry and you would often hear as many English as French voices trawling the markets and auctions of Normandy and beyond.  What was once considered exclusive and for the wealthy quickly became more commonplace but this did nothing to quell demand.  Nor was the supply exhausted.  With France a much bigger country than our own and with many natives leading simple rustic lives in idyllic farm houses the type of product we English craved was to be found everywhere.

A rustic looking shop front in France

Needing a new angle, the cannier, more creative and talented amongst the shabby chic furniture hunters began to renovate the pieces they were bringing home.  Simple, vintage sideboards and rustic dining tables were scrubbed down, sanded and repainted to look almost new.  Paint styles and paints themselves developed, the eponymous chalk paint evolved and a whole new genre of reclaimed French furniture began appearing on British high streets in the best furniture and antique shops.  Along with growing awareness of Rachel Ashwell’s design mantra shabby chic furnishing was the interior design trend.

A white painted kitchen furnished in a shabby chic style with a rustic dining table in the centre
Textbook use of shabby chic furniture in a kitchen

Many still consider shabby chic furniture a relatively new concept, indeed perhaps only now is it breaking into the mainstream.  Just recently we have witnessed one or two tv documentaries featuring those heading across the pond in search of vintage treasures to bring back to our shores.  One of those shows, curiously titled Dirty Weekenders, featured Richard E. Grant who set out to “experience the world of the people who spend their time rifling through the barns, cowsheds and French farm attics, looking for pre-war treasures to bring back home.”   (the show is still available to view on the Channel 4 Player, see the link below)

Actor Richard E Grant browsing items in a brocante
Richard E Grant browses a vintage lantern in the show Dirty Weekenders

Thankfully the world has moved on as has the shabby chic furniture business.  No longer must we rely on a trusted, elusive contact to come up with the next rare gem.  No longer must we wait months on end for that perfect vintage sideboard to be discovered in some rural barn in Brittany.  Better still no longer do we need to pay vastly over the odds for what a French Mademoiselle was only too happy to part with for a handful of Francs!

Shabby chic furniture may not be mainstream, and to be honest we are thankful for that, variety is the spice of life after all, but the accessibility of the genre is much, much better.  Via clever craftsmen, manufacturing techniques and new paints and finishes we can create reproduction shabby chic furniture that looks as good as the originals that inspired it.  Better still, as pieces can be made from newer wood; they are much easier to look after and should last as many years as their ancestors.  Many of our favourite pieces combine a little of the old along with the new, we love a reclaimed wood table top sat upon new, freshly painted wooden legs.

A white distressed painted wooden table with a reclaimed wood table top
Combining the best of old and new, our Reclaimed Timber Painted Dining Table

Furthermore here at The Orchard we can make shabby chic furniture to order.  Imagine finding the perfect console table in a Brocante after years of trawling across the continent only to find it is two centimeters too wide for your alcove!  No longer need this be a concern; we have our own French Brocante, the name for one of our most popular furniture collections, which is home to over fifty classic, shabby chic furniture designs.  From bedroom to kitchen, living room to study, we have a piece for every requirement.  Each available in a range of twelve distressed paint finishes and available on a made to measure basis if our standard dimensions aren’t quite right for you.

A two door, two drawer French styled cupboard with distressed paintwork
Our Brocante Narrow Two Door Buffet

To see our French Brocante range click here, to submit a made to measure enquiry click here.  If you’d prefer to discuss your requirements with us we’d love to talk furniture with you over the phone.  You can reach us Monday to Friday on 0845 643 0363, ask to speak to Mat or Jo.

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