HOME & LIVING
10/26/2011 07:41 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Rachel Ashwell On The Shabby Chic Brand And Her Inspirations (PHOTOS)

The name Rachel Ashwell might ring a bell. If not, then her iconic brand Shabby Chic will definitely strike a chord. Known for her love of flea market finds, use of snow white fabric and for mixing and matching prints, colors and patterns, Rachel's company Shabby Chic has inspired a global home aesthetic that highlights comfort and imperfection.

Started in 1989, Rachel's company Shabby Chic began selling fabric slipcovers and flea-market furnishings before they were widespread, and she instantly won the admiration of many designers and celebrities, including Madonna and Bruce Springsteen.

"I was raised in a flea market family," says Rachel who has an impeccable eye for vintage finds. "My mom was an antique dolls dealer and she would restore these dolls and it taught me the beauty of restoration. My father was an antique books dealer and I learned from him how to go to flea markets and be decisive."

And that love for the unexpected and often overlooked details extends to one of Rachel's muses, Marie Antoinette. "I love the juxtaposition of her--the decadence and the abundance with all the silks and velvets on old funky wood floors," explains Rachel. "If it's all too chic or too glamorous it's like I can't touch it. To me, perfection is very intimidating."

We sat down with Rachel to chat about her inspirations, the Shabby Chic brand, and her latest venture, a line of flea market-inspired furnishings with QVC, which just launched today. And scroll down for a slideshow of some of her interiors, bedding and inspirations throughout the years.

How did the Shabby Chic brand begin?
Well, it began in 1989. At the time I had been doing styling for sets and commercials and I had two kids. I didn't want to go back to photography and styling so I thought that I'd combine my knowledge of how to find stuff at flea markets with my skill for making vignettes. I set out to do slipcovers by myself which wasn't easy back in those days because it was mainly ones made of plastic. I developed machine washable fabrics for slipcovers and then I opened a store that embraces these slipcovers and flea market finds. The covers were sold out in days since there was nothing like this around then. And the planets were lined up; I opened my store in Santa Monica and a couple of celebrities admired my work. The brand had a great name so altogether it was success.

What's the main inspiration behind Shabby Chic?
Life, in a way, was an inspiration as always and it was looking at what I wanted as a young mother and thinking it wasn't really there. My mantra back then was 'Beauty, comfort, function'. My kids were young and I wanted all those things. I wanted every room to have a real purpose and I wanted them to be inviting and not a whole sticky mess at the end of the day. That's where the mixing and matching comes in.

How has the Shabby Chic brand evolved over the years?
For many years, I was known as the queen of white and pink. That was my reign, especially for my Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic stores. Over time snow whites took on more ivory, my pinks have become more smokey and the blues have gone to more teal, so the palette has kind of matured like wine. When I first opened my store, I was selling slipcovers and flea market furniture, and now there's the Simply Shabby Chic line for Target and bedding is also a big component of the brand now. The lifestyle behind the Shabby Chic brand is about carrying future heirlooms from year to year instead of buying something and getting rid of it the next year. And that has stayed true from day one.

How does this new line for QVC differ from the Target line?
The Target line has bedding and bath and we're not doing that for QVC, which has more casegoods and accessories. But it's a similar demographic. The pieces in the QVC line -- like the mercury-inspired candlesticks, lamps, mirrors, end table, rug -- are all inspired by one-of-a-kind flea-market finds that I sell at my stores. My favorite is a floral handpainted cabinet from my very first book about 15 years ago that I really loved. The new line has a lot of what people had desired or wished that I had in the stores and these pieces are like inspired little special details.

You are known for having an eye for salvaged and found objects from flea markets, what are some tips to have in mind when shopping a market?
Be selective and curate your shopping. Know what you're looking for. Wandering the aisles can be overpowering. Is it a gift? A mirror? What are your needs? Have a focus.

Understand your ability to fix things up. There's nothing worse than having projects in a garage that you want to fix up but never get to.

I love shopping for paint finishes. I'm not into blacks, but ivories and grays are for me.

Flea market people like cash better than check. Have an idea for budget because flea prices are pretty random...and sort of abstract. I have such deep respect for the vendors but I have in my head how much I'm going to pay for something and I just very respectfully tell them it's not in my price range if it's higher than what I had in mind.

Make notes of where you bought things. Take photos. I've left a few things behind before.

Bring a flashlight for the winter. You think you see the color...

Is there any find that's most memorable?
There's a painting, which I put into my very first book. It's a beautiful oil painting with a dark brown background and deep pink roses. It's a deep painting, which is different from what people would expect of me. There are certain things that you just don't see anymore. I used to just get a lot of wonderful oil paintings but they've kind of dried up a little. I've also got a lovely poem on humility, a beautiful embroidery and I like religious items because they remind me of a bigger purpose in life.

Do you ever get sick of white?
No, I don't. To me, white is the biggest wow. When you go into a room and all the things are white -- white walls, white floors, white bed -- it's always stunning. That's wow to me. Using all white...it's a brave statement. And the wow of white has given me the confidence to explore and get to know color.

Your three favorite idols?
Ralph Lauren. From a businessman stand point and I think he's an authentic designer because his work is inspired by life as opposed to a marketing strategy. Musicians such as Mozart who can come up with something from nowhere. And although I'm not a fan of the Harry Potter books, I think J.K. Rowling is remarkably inspiring to have come up with all of it.

If you could live in any historical period, which would it be?
The late 1800s. I look at the horses and families and the community. It was more simple.

What are three words that describe the Shabby Chic lifestyle and aesthetic now?
Beauty Comfort Function

Click through the slideshow to see some of Rachel's interiors, finds and inspirations throughout the years. All photos courtesy of Shabby Chic.

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