Offcuts: Shabby Chic? By: Don Heisz

I have come across a term I really dislike.

While out with my wife, yesterday, we came across a place with a placard that read “Shabby Chic”. Even that was fairly shabby, made with a weathered and cracked frame that was painted white.

“I guess there’s a shabby chick in there,” I said. (I’ll apologize in advance.)

I really didn’t want to look around, but I did take a quick glance at the shabby contents of the store. It appeared to be mostly old dressers that had received a new coat of Easter-themed paint, several dilapidated chairs that had undergone the same treatment, some chairs that had their backs cut off at the seat to turn them into stools, and a couple of dining tables that didn’t look at all exceptional.

Now, I am 100% behind the use of older things. Furniture that is still perfectly good after 50 years and that may still be good for another 50 should actually be used. And I am all in favour of refinishing if a piece would look better for it. But these paint jobs are not actually refinishing. Part of the allure of a lot of this stuff is the so-called “rustic” look of something that has been painted over and over again. So, the finish that was on it is still there, under the new Easter-egg green or blue paint. And the new paint may or may not start to flake off on its own after a year.

So, I always view repainted things with a dubious eye.

As for rickety chairs, if you’re not going to reglue the joints and make them solid again, you may as well burn them. I’d rather not ever have a chair collapse under my or anyone else’s weight. I don’t care if they’re lime green or cotton-candy coloured.

But, to be fair, I can understand the need to do such things. People want “decor” pieces. They want some distinctive feature to stick in a corner and put a potted azalea on. They want a chair-cum-stool to perch the cat on to take quaint cat-themed photos. And the people who get these items-otherwise-firewood and paint them up and charge a premium price for them are quite smart to do so. People want it, so sell it to them.

But there’s another aspect of “shabby chic” that I really really dislike, namely, the somewhat ubiquitous idea of repurposing.

What is that, you ask? That’s when you take something and use it for something else. Sometimes, the transition is smooth. For example, when people get those large cable spools and set them up as a coffee table. Looks almost convincing. And, when I was young, the idea behind doing something like that was you would get that item for free and it held up the pizza box, beer cans, and your feet perfectly well. At some point, it became cool. (Note: it also goes well with milk-bottle crate shelving, which you can actually buy, now.)

That one isn’t so bad, though.

I recently saw online somewhere a so-called display case made by screwing four old windows together. Of course, there is a way to go about doing that to make it look good and be an example of decent workmanship. This was not an example of that.

the only good use for a pallet

And this brings me to the most universal one. While sitting on the deck a few days ago, my wife told me there were six pallets at work she could take.

“What for?” I asked.

She pointed at a corner of the deck. “A bench.”

“What?”

“A corner bench.”

“Pallets are rough and splintery. The wood is garbage, that’s why they use it for pallets.”

“You put cushions on it,” she said.

“I can get 2x4s and make a bench that won’t be a death trap, if you want.”

She didn’t argue. I’m pretty sure she already knew I hated the idea of using a pallet for anything. That doesn’t mean I’m against using the wood for something. Sometimes, pallets are made from very good wood, if you can manage to get the nails out. But the trend is not to use it as a source of raw material, but rather as a finished product.

I don’t know how many coats of robins-egg-blue you’d need to put on your average pallet to make it halfway decent to touch. I know I don’t have that much paint.