Why is shabby chic so popular? Why do people buy new homes and put in old brick walls, add faux paint to their walls to make them look ancient or take new boards and take hours to rough them up to make them look like one-hundred-year old barn wood?
It is because in our modern often soulless world we are desperate to have things that look like they have history. We want objects that look like they have had the lives of many people engraved upon their surface. We want to be reminded that things once had meaning and were valued. Back to a time when food was naturally organic and old things had to be reused because extra income wasn’t always there to replace old things. We want to be reminded of A Time Before Plastic.
Living in the suburbs of a fairly new city, I can see why old country furniture or at least furniture that has been painted to look old is so popular. If our houses are all identical- painted with the same pale colours and similar form- if all of our furniture is from Ikea…and our art are dull lifeless prints bought from Wal-Mart, then we have become starved to be surrounded by items made with heart.
People now take down whole barns and sell it to people in the city for a premium price. And why? Because we want to be reminded that there was once a time when there were barns, full of hay and animals. We want to remember that there were farmers who grew things without pesticides and farmer’s wives who cooked and canned. They had real solid furniture that was not factory made by poor non-unionized workers but perhaps made by hand by someone in the family. Something strong and sturdy. Not to be thrown in the landfill after it got a broken leg, but a piece worth mending.
It was one New Year’s that I spent on the couch alone with a whole cheesecake and bottle of wine, that I first discovered My Antonia by Willa Cather. I started it on the 31 st of December and savoured it all day long on January 1st. I fell in love with the character Antonia. It was the story of her life told by a young boy who lived on the farm next to her. It was set in the prairies at the end of the 19th century. I bet you that if you told Antonia that two hundred years later we would pay people to take chains to our tables to make them look old, she would think we were mad.
I found another of Willa Cather’s books, titled, O! Pioneers, which I read on a packed city bus snaking its way through the snowy streets of Calgary. I swayed along shoulder to shoulder with another passenger who was probably concerned about the tears I had running down my cheeks. After finishing it on that overheated bus I thought, I am going to create an academy award-winning movie based on My Antonia, although I know it has been done already, but mine will be better. With panoramic views of swaying fields of wheat and with close-ups of shabby chic farm furniture, made by well paid clever set designers to look antique.