Review of Last Lecture

So what is Shabby Chic?  According to Vivienne Lawes it is the art of arrangement, the putting together of objects so that they are a presentation not just things dotted about.

Vivienne used Italian terms to identify the separate parts of one's collection – Naturalia, and Artificialia were two of the  terms she used to describe the 'things' displayed over the centuries.   Back in Renaissance times the wealthy had their scrittolo, studiolo, kabinetti or kammer, depending upon their nationality.  In these small rooms were put their precious objects collected from ruins, or naturalists who found a new specimen, the pictures and books they loved.  These rooms were private, only close friends or those whom the owner wished to impress, were invited in to admire the contents and many of the rooms were treasures in themselves.  The marquetry of the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, the panelling doors in the Medici Palace in Florence are nowadays considers works of art.

The habit spread, any one with money and power developed his own collection.   Gradually  people began to extend their display out of the kabinetti into the house as a whole.  Larger statues ranged along galleries, pictures were hung on the walls.   Francis I of France installed a gallery at Fontainebleau, employing Cellini to provide statues for it.  Thinkers began to argue about whether ancient was better than modern and develop their collections accordingly.   If the interest of the owners extended to the natural world stuffed animals and fossils were added, particularly as the Age of Discovery opened up the word and introduced new species to Europeans.

As the British began to enjoy their Grand Tours they brought back souvenirs and ideas of what to do with them.  The big country houses in this country developed into display areas as well as homes.  Large houses have always been open to the public, provided one wrote and asked nicely, and this enabled the wealthy to show the general populace their good taste as well as their wealth.  Locally to us Wilton House is an excellent example of the end result, with its juxtaposed roman statues and contemporary pictures acquired over the years.   Kingston Lacey is an equally good example of the result of the Grand Tour.

Not So Shabby Chic  

by Vivienne Lawes

Elegant Shabby Chic at Wilton House

Philosophers thought about these developments and have given guidance as to how the rest of us can develop our own displays resulting in Country House Style, which is in effect what Vivienne meant by Shabby Chic.  Rudolph Arnheim said 'All perception is thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention'.  

The German word 'gestaldt' can be translated as 'The whole is the sum of its parts'.   This is the principle to use; to find logic out of chaos.  Collect together your objects, display them in a way which makes the end result look meaningful.  Use the principles of 'proximity',  'symmetry',  'continuity' and 'similarity'.  And that is your own version of Shabby Chic.

Many of the most successful collections in our Country Houses are in fact mixtures of totally unlike things, it is all down to the arrangement.  In essence we had a quick lesson in interior design, and we all went home wondering how to make our own sitting rooms 'Shabbily Chic'.

Modern Shabby Chic, with distressed age built in.